Back to School Resources

White text hovers over colorful school supplies, including paper clips and mechanical pencils. The text reads: "KODAheart goes Back to School"

 

As the summer winds to a close, many of us begin preparing for the start of the school year with apprehension rather than excitement. Frequently koda and Deaf families express concern about the pressures of a new classroom explaining that they have to gear up for another round of difficult conversations with teachers, coaches, administrators, and parents. To ease the transition into the new school year, the KODAheart team has compiled resources for koda and Deaf families to help foster conversations and empower families.

These back to school resources encourage families to be proactive in dealing with these groups. We’ve highlighted places where conflict or confusion frequently occur and will make suggestions for remedying these moments of contention using various tools and techniques. Many of these resources began as suggestions from members of the community. We have had countless parents and k/codas share stories and strategies for negotiating this transition. There lacks a single repository for these community-generated resources- we’re compiling them here. By no means is this complete- consider this page a living document that will be updated as new strategies and tools are developed by our team and yours.

 

Teachers and School Staff

For many parents, starting a new year in a new classroom means revisiting the same basic conversation about the language and cultural needs of their child. A strategy for resolving some of the confusion and combating some assumptions teachers may have about the Deaf community involves formulating a “letter to the teacher” for your koda child. The aim of this letter is to take the time to educate your child’s teacher on the complexities of a multicultural/multilingual family and how this may or may not impact their success in the classroom.

A number of organizations have made form letters available- we are linking to these and other resources below. KODAheart encourages parents to produce their own unique letter. Use the letter to introduce yourself, your family and to describe the needs and experiences of your family. Each letter should have three parts; an introduction, information about your child, and information about yourselves as parents. Below, we will highlight things to consider as you compose this letter.

Please keep in mind that while these conversations may seem repetitive to Deaf community members, for many teachers this letter may be the first interaction the instructor has had with a deaf family. Kindly introduce yourself and encourage the teacher to ask questions. Remember that many teachers are restricted at an administrative level from making major changes in lesson plans or classroom layouts. Approach this as the first of many conversations. Look at it as a negotiation and be willing to compromise. The goal of the letter is to identify an institutional lack of resources and to provide important language, cultural, and behavioral information and ensure the success of your child.

A good approach to identifying the needs of your child is to think about past feedback shared with you about your child in the classroom; how might those behaviors have been shaped by their unique language and background? What suggestions would you have for the teacher in terms of teaching style, room arrangement, etc. to better facilitate learning for your child? What other concerns do you have for your child in a hearing educational environment? Below we have noted some frequently suggested subjects:

  • Koda (Kids of Deaf Adults) is a child under the age of 18 with one or more Deaf parents.
  • Approximately 90% of Deaf adults have hearing children.
  • It is not uncommon for kodas to use ASL (American Sign Language) and to be immersed in Deaf Culture, making them multilingual/multicultural.
  • ASL has its own grammatical structure that is much different than English.
  • Deaf culture consists of it own values and norms, derived from the Deaf community. Examples of this includes physically touching a person to get their attention, and the need for face to face communication/ eye contact while talking.
  • Some kodas are visual learners, benefiting from visual stimuli in a learning environment. Eye contact and direct sight-line to the board are modifications that may need to be made in the classroom in order to process information.

The teacher letter is also a good place to begin a conversation about your own language preferences. Though the common story of kodas interpreting at parent-teacher conferences occurs less and less today, many parents do not know that they can begin conversations with their child’s teacher about conferences, classroom visits, and after-school events. In order to establish an appropriate communication system, be clear and concise. Explain the language or communication preference that is most effective for your family. Consider various scenarios and offer a solution. For example;

  • Best method of communication with our family would be email: (insert email address). For immediate access, a text message is fine (insert text number).
  • If you need to call us our phone number is (insert phone number), you will be connected with a sign language interpreter who will interpret the conversation between us. If we are not available the sign language interpreter will assist in leaving a video mail message (this functions much like voicemail).
  • For school events such as conferences and parent participation events, sign language interpreters will need to be requested in advance. This can be done through the office- they have have a list of agencies in the area and will make the arrangements needed.
  • Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns.

The best approach to the “letter to the teacher” is to think of it as both a technique and a tool. Your letter is a technique for initiating a conversation with your child’s teacher. Many parents expressed that they were unsure how to begin complicated conversations about culture and language. Some shared that because no clear communication technique was established, they did not learn of a behavioral concern or language question until midway through the year. Sharing a letter with your child’s teacher at the outset of a school year ensures that both you and the teacher have begun an important conversation about your child’s educational needs. Your letter also becomes a tool for empowering your family to define the communication methods that are preferable and effective for you. Like a tool, it can be added to your toolbox and reused. It is a tool that can be shaped with use over a number of years as the letter is revised and improved, building on the feedback and experiences of the previous year.

 

Administrators

Whether your family is moving into a new school district or continuing enrollment in the same one, initiating and cultivating a positive relationship with the school’s administrative staff can be an important task for parents at the start of a new school year. As many parents know, school administrators play a critical role in the day-to-day functioning of the school, establishing schedules, evaluating teachers, meting out discipline for students, and planning policies, procedures and curricula. For many parents, a new school year means renewed frustration with scheduling interpreters for events and communicating with administrators regarding behavioral issues and/or student absences. While each of these scenarios requires a different response, below we will make recommendations for specific strategies to aid in resolving confusion or conflict.

As we suggested above, it may be useful to compose a letter or email to administrators or to schedule a meeting that begins a conversation about language preferences and communication requirements. For either approach you should introduce yourself, stipulate communication preferences, and discuss productive solutions. Keep in mind, that as with teachers, administrators may have had limited interaction with Deaf adults. Be open to answering questions about culture and language, as well as accessibility requirements. Below we’ve developed a list of discussion topics and resources to share with administrative staff.

  • Take a few minutes to share information about using Video Relay Services (VRS). This may be the method you chose to best communicate with your school when informing them of a absence or to pass along a message to your child. This also may be how administrators communicate any school updates, weather closures, or other news with you and your family. Be clear about your prefered mode of communication (text/email vs. phone call)
  • Share the contact information of your preferred interpreter or sign language agency. Stipulate your communication preference (ASL, PSE, or SEE). Providing this information to the administrative staff will assist them in obtaining a qualified interpreter for your event or meeting.
  • Inform them about the lead time needed for scheduling an interpreter. When requesting an interpreter for school events, it is suggested that the school put the request in two weeks before the date to ensure an interpreter can be scheduled. Parents should contact the school as far in advance as you can with any dates and times of events you would like to attend. Make sure to follow up with the school a week before the event to confirm an interpreter has been scheduled.

Your letter or conversation should also address a number of scenarios that parents and administrators can reasonably expect in the course of a school year. We’ve developed a brief list of situations below and we recommend that parents clearly define their preferred mode of communication for these scenarios:

  • My child is sick, what is the best way for you to contact me?
  • My child is having disciplinary issues, what is the best way for you to you contact me?
  • There is an emergency situation, what is the best way for you to contact me?
  • My child is absent and you haven’t heard from me, what is the best way for you to contact me?
  • You can’t get ahold of me, what is the next step?
  • At what events will I need an interpreter?/ What events will you need to contact me ahead of time to see if I will want/need an interpreter?

If necessary, gently remind administrators that notification systems and solutions exist for all students. Deaf parents, in requesting services, are not “asking too much” nor are they “asking for special accommodations.” In large part the solutions that are utilized for hearing parents and hearing children are normalized and routinized to the point of being overlooked. It is important to be clear about the communication needs of your family and to be willing to develop solutions together. Sharing this information at the start of the school year is a proactive approach to addressing these issues and ensures greater access and ease of communication for the remainder of the term.

As with the letter to the teacher, the resources and solutions you develop for administrators can be reused and applied in other ways. It is important that you begin to track concerns as they occur, noting the solution that was most effective. From phone calls and letters, to experiences with interpreters, noting these experiences and the solutions you develop will strengthen your suggestions for administrators in the following years. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions for change and improvement as time goes on.

 

After School Activities: Coaches, Instructors, and Leaders

As most parents know, when you have kids your calendar quickly fills up with weekly practices and events. From classes and clubs, intramural and interscholastic sports, theatre productions and performances, managing your family’s list of after-school commitments can be overwhelming! Many parents have expressed that koda and Deaf families experience additional pressures regarding their participation in these activities. The back-to-school season can carry concerns that parents have missed registration deadlines and announcements. Some parents experience difficulty in being included on carpooling lists and post-game snack schedules. Resolving these concerns frequently requires parents to be creative in their approach and proactive in their efforts.

Communicating with coaches, leaders, and instructors is a crucial step toward resolving these concerns. As with teachers and administrators, a letter, email, or conversation with your child’s coach/leader/instructor is a useful tool for clearly defining a communication preference and procedure. Whenever possible, introduce yourself early. Keep in mind, that as with teachers and administrators, the individuals involved in after-school programs may have had limited interaction with Deaf adults. You may need to explain language and cultural information, as well as define the appropriate way to contact you about an injury or cancellation. This is also an opportunity to address and discuss linguistic and cultural needs, as well as allergies or medical concerns that may pertain to your child. Things to include are;

  • Best method of communication with our family would be: email (insert email address) text message (insert phone number), phone (insert phone number).
  • If you need to call us our phone number is (insert phone number), you will be connected with a sign language interpreter who will interpret the conversation between us. If we are not available the sign language interpreter will assist in leaving a video mail message (this functions much like voicemail).
  • In an emergency, please contact us at (insert preferred method). If this is unsuccessful, please contact (additional caregiver’s contact information).

Many additional aspects of after-school programs and activities are casually planned by the coach/leader/instructor or a helpful parent. Communicate with your child’s teacher and the “classroom parent”  if available, about your interest in being involved in future classroom activities. A classroom parent is typically a parent who has volunteered during the school year to coordinate events for your child’s classroom. When such an event or activity is near, the classroom parent can reach out to you via your prefered method (email, text, or phone) with information. Don’t be afraid to ask who might be organizing the following:

  • Ask about bringing water/treats to games or practices for the team.
  • Ask about carpooling schedules to and from events.
  • Ask about wrap up dinners/parties/award ceremonies .
  • Ask about fundraising efforts.
  • Ask about interpreted events: At what events will I need an interpreter?/What events will you need to contact me ahead of time to see if I will want/need an interpreter?

Depending on the size of your community, it may also be useful for you to reach out to league leaders about the option of disseminating announcements, scheduling, and other information through a website or facebook page. This effort would make much of the conversation regarding parent participation transparent and public- ensuring access. It may also be useful to ask about other koda and Deaf families in the league. If possible, joining with other families on a single team, troupe, or activity may lend itself to greater opportunities for participation and ensure that an interpreter may be provided. However, no family should be forced to endure undue stress (in financial or transportation) in order to accommodate such a request.

After-school programs keep kids active and engaged. They can encourage creativity, teamwork, and enable kids to develop new skills and knowledge. They also encourage kids and families to engage with their communities in meaningful ways. Koda and Deaf families can and should participate in all aspects of these programs and activities.

 

Other Parents

Another important and often overlooked aspect of the back-to-school experience is the introduction to a new group of children and their parents. Imagining the process of re-introducing your family to another new group of faces can be a bit daunting. Especially in situations where other families have had no experience with koda and Deaf families. The linguistic and cultural barriers can seem difficult to surmount and many parents have shared with us that they feel left out in these situations.

Despite these barriers, other parents may be an invaluable resource to you. Within parenting circles age- or grade-specific information is exchanged about subjects ranging from school activity deadlines and carpool lists, to discounts on gym shorts and computers. These casual conversations are full of useful information, advice, and resources for parents that may not always be accessible to Deaf parents. Furthermore, parents often rely on these social networks, planning play-dates and sleep-overs. Often leaving your child in the care of others requires trust and understanding, something that is usually developed through the casual interpersonal exchanges before or after school activities.

Initiating conversation with other parents can be difficult. The best technique is to remain friendly and approachable. Keep in mind that as with the other groups discussed, many parents may not know any members of the Deaf community. They may be intimidated about asking questions or introducing themselves. Set the tone by introducing yourself. A kind smile and a wave is a good start as you pick up and drop your kids off at school. If no interpreter is available, use your cell phone or a pad of paper to initiate a conversation. Remember that they will likely follow suit and mirror your communication techniques. At performances, “Parent Nights,” and other events be sure to utilize your interpreter for the conversation with other parents as well as teachers.

For play-dates and sleepovers it may prove useful to be proactive in explaining contact information and procedures to other parents. As above, clarify the following:

  • Best method of communication with our family would be: email (insert email address) text message (insert phone number), phone (insert phone number).
  • If you need to call us our phone number is (insert phone number), you will be connected with a sign language interpreter who will interpret the conversation between us. If we are not available the sign language interpreter will assist in leaving a video mail message (this functions much like voicemail).

It is also not unusual for children to have questions about Deaf culture and ASL. Many other parents may not know how to answer these questions for their children, and afraid to ask. Do feel comfortable advising parents on how to correct misunderstandings about Deaf people and Signed Languages. If you are comfortable, you should feel able to offer parents specific language to use or step in to demonstrate sign language for them. Some examples below;

  • Koda (Kids of Deaf Adults) is a child under the age of 18 with one or more Deaf parents.
  • Deaf people prefer to be called Deaf or hard of hearing, not hearing impaired.
  • ASL has its own grammatical structure that is much different than English.
  • Deaf culture consists of it own values and norms, derived from the Deaf community.
  • Approximately 90% of Deaf adults have hearing children.
  • It is not uncommon for kodas to use ASL (American Sign Language) and to be immersed in Deaf Culture, making them multilingual/multicultural.

A number of techniques are possible for handling an interaction with other parents. The final, significant resource is other koda and Deaf families in your community. Look for families with children in the same age group, plan events and activities that will encourage families to meet and exchange information and resources. Share the advice and techniques you have gained and see if others have had similar experiences. This process will enable your family to develop your own techniques and tools creating better and more meaningful interactions.

 

The tools and tips compiled here are intended to help families in preparing for the start of the school year. Though a number of pressures, concerns, and frustrations accompany a new school year, these resources, developed by Deaf community members and the KODAheart team are intended to help your family approach the upcoming scholastic year with excitement. Our goal is to empower families and foster meaningful conversations about language, culture, and social interaction. Please also make use of the resources available across our communities and feel free to contact us to share additional resources and techniques.

 

Additional Resources:

The Victorian Deaf Society in Australia has put together a great teacher’s guide for working with  Deaf parents and their children. This guide covers a variety of topics parents face when working with the school system.

A local Maryland KODA organization created a sample teacher letter on their facebook page.

For more information about koda and Deaf families, The Looking Glass has put together an informational packet. Information gathered by TSD Educational resource center on deafness about k/codas can be shared with teachers and administrators as additional resources as well.

For assistance in locating services, the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center has developed a list of statewide services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People. The National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf provides a directory of interpreters.

For an explanation of interpreting services, the Department of Justice has developed this summary of ADA requirements regarding effective communication.

For a specific summary of the use of interpreters in public school settings, the NAD has produced this informational resource. There is an additional resource for private schools, classes, or programs, as well.

Elizabeth, a Deaf mother has put together a list of 10 best tips how to interact with a Deaf mom, a great resource to share with hearing parents who may not have any previous experience interacting with members of the deaf community.

Moving to a new school? Take a look at The State of Play’s Tips for Transitioning to a New School for ideas on how to make the change for your child go as smoothly as possible.