By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter
IT WAS A FRIDAY — the final school day of the week for students. As usual, the day began with a flag ceremony at 7:15 a.m., then regular classes proceeded as scheduled. But unlike other senior high schools, the students of the Benilde Deaf School have a Filipino sign language class at 12:45 p.m. — the second session for the week.
It was lunchtime after BusinessWorld’s interview with two faculty members. Visiting a classroom where the students’ chairs were arranged in a semi-circle, the young students were enjoying their lunches. With the help of their Homeroom adviser, we asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. Among those who responded, two said that they wanted to become chefs, one wanted to be a teacher, another an IT professional, while the other was still uncertain.
SILENT SENIOR HIGH
In August, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB) opened the Benilde Deaf School, a senior high school for deaf students offering Grades 7 to 12, to strengthen diversity and inclusivity of the institution. Benilde already has a college-level School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies.
According to Benilde Deaf School principal Dr. May T. Cabutihan, the school had aid from The Nippon Foundation of Japan, as well as partnerships with the College’s Model Learning Institute for Deaf Centered Education and Pre-College Education Network-International P-CEN of Rochester Institute of Technology-National Technical Institute of the Deaf, to help support the school with faculty training, student development training, and even resource materials development.
“We started preparing for it in 2009. We did research to check different public schools and the status of deaf education. Actual preparations came in 2010,” Dr. Cabutihan told BusinessWorld in an interview in August. “We visited schools and programs for the deaf like Rochester School for the Deaf in New York. We also had mentoring from teachers there and visits to various schools for the deaf in Japan.”
The curriculum is similar to that of a regular school but modified to fit the needs of the students. “We balance it by integrating Filipino sign language in it. But we would not want to focus on Filipino sign language and ignore English language. We hope to achieve a balance of both languages. We also need to consider the current needs of the deaf students.”
The senior high school, temporarily housed at the Solomon Guest House on Ayala and Arellano Sts. near the Angelo King International Center, opened with a pioneering batch of 10 students in Grade 7.
Dr. Cabutihan noted that 10 to 15 students per class is the ideal student-teacher ratio for the deaf. The current students were mostly born deaf.
The school employs bilingual and bicultural education. According to information posted on the classroom bulletin board, Filipino sign language (FSL) is the first language of the deaf and it “will be used as a primary language of instruction in order to develop and nurture language and identity,” and that it “is the foundation in learning the second and third language, written English and Filipino, which are the languages of the larger community.”
“We have the same subjects as the K-12 program with the use of more visuals. However, what makes us different is that we have deaf studies and Filipino sign language classes (two hours a week) as addition to the regular academic curriculum,” Dr. Cabutihan said. “We recognize that Filipino sign language is the native language for the deaf. It is used as a foundation for teaching and learning subjects.
“Even if we will be teaching them the same subjects, there will be the same topics with modifications,” she added, citing that as a teacher she gives her students written work in English and the presentations are done in Filipino sign language.
The students come from different public schools and have different sign language proficiency and literacy skills. “Some students may be comfortable in signing. Some are more comfortable with writing and we try to provide opportunities to develop both,” Dr. Cabutihan said.
Homeroom adviser and English teacher Ruth Reyes — one of the school’s non-hearing faculty members — noted in sign language (as interpreted by Dr. Cabutihan) that Filipino sign language and American sign language are taught in different ways since they each have their own grammatical structure and different words may share a similar sign.
The Benilde Deaf School currently has six non-hearing and five hearing teachers. Some faculty members are from the college’s School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies.
“Deaf teachers will be able to relate to the experiences of the deaf students. They will be able to help the students in expressing their signing skills better than hearing people,” Dr. Cabutihan said of the student’s experience with non-hearing teachers.
Despite the challenge of having to cope with how students learn differently, Ms. Reyes expressed how rewarding the experience is for her.
“It’s very rewarding to see that face of the students when they have the look that they understood or when students say that it is the first time that they understand something,” Dr. Cabutihan translated.
Ms. Reyes affirmed that workplaces are now more open to accepting deaf graduates and that they are acknowledged for what they can contribute; she also noted that deaf college alumni find jobs as call center agents, land in the food and hospitality industry, open their own businesses, and also become teachers.
“We want them (the students) to develop their deaf-identity and we want to build their confidence,” Dr. Cabutihan said.
According to Dr. Cabutihan, more schools for the deaf have yet to be established in the country and promote standardized methods of teaching. “We will strive to be a model school,” she said.