Deaf and Hard of Hearing students in Ottawa County and beyond are benefiting from a center-based program housed at Holland Public Schools.
The program, run by the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, is housed at West Elementary, Holland Middle School and Holland High School. Around 30 students from Ottawa, Allegan and Muskegon counties are brought to HPS to participate.
“All three buildings have teachers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, (with) American Sign Language interpreters and Deaf Language Models on staff working together to make sure our students have equal access to their education,” said interpreter Kaleigh Smith.
Students in the program participate in many activities, ranging from sports to musicals, alongside their peers.
“Having this hub in Holland Public Schools allows the staff to be able to rely on each other, allows the students to build friendships that are real and true and meaningful, and allows us to be together and work collaboratively,” said program teacher Andrea Wiersma-Magsig.
Ati, a deaf student, said the program, and working with Smith, has been “wonderful.”
“She just makes everything so clear to me, so I can understand.”
Smith, who’s worked with Ati for two years, said people are often surprised to see DHH students participate in and excel at various school activities.
“Our connection with our kids is what’s going to set them on the best trajectory for their future and that’s our main goal,” she said.
In addition to hosting the program, Holland has taken steps to educate the community on ASL. The district hosted a series of free, public ASL classes over Zoom in March, April and May.
“We want other people to see this excitement, this passion and this enthusiasm,” Wiersma-Magsig said in February. “We see this as an opportunity to allow any parents … teachers, support staff, really anybody to jump on board and learn some basic communication.”
Recordings of the classes and more information on the DHH program are available at hollandpublicschools.org.