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Trip to specialized school helps expand world for deaf student

A Flin Flon student with hearing deficits has had a prime chance to learn more about the world and how to communicate, thanks to a visit to a specialized school in Winnipeg.
A file image of a cochlear implant device, used to help people who are hard of hearing.

A Flin Flon student with hearing deficits has had a prime chance to learn more about the world and how to communicate, thanks to a visit to a specialized school in Winnipeg.

Aerabella Caribou, a Grade 4 Ruth Betts Community School student, visited the Manitoba School for the Deaf (MSD) in April, getting to see and learn at Manitoba’s largest school for deaf or hard-of-hearing students.

One of Caribou’s teachers, Jihan Idiris, spoke with members of the Flin Flon School Division’s board of trustees May 23 about the student’s recent trip and some of the lessons learned both by her and by Flin Flon staff members. Caribou has hearing deficits and communicates mostly through lipreading and American Sign Language (ASL), which she takes classes in - educational assistants are with Caribou at school and communicate with her via ASL. Other students in Caribou’s grade have also picked up basic ASL to communicate with her at school.

“Her Grade 1 teacher was learning ASL and moved up with her. The students, they did a lot of work. It wasn’t just one person learning - it was the entire class. I know they sign O Canada all the time and they learned different songs to sign with Aerabella - lots of the students are comfortable signing with her,” said Idiris.

“She’s got a good little group here.”

Caribou has a cochlear implant, an electronic device that allows people with severe hearing deficits to hear, but the device has not functioned properly for some time, hindering her ability to communicate.

At MSD, Caribou took part in classes and student workshops, learning skills that may not be available at schools in Flin Flon. The MSD features unique adaptations for their students’ needs - for instance, fire alarms are a bright white light that flashes, instead of a loud siren. Each classroom has a television and video camera inside, where students see announcements and are prompted to stand for O Canada in the morning by a second flashing light, this one coloured orange.

Caribou also saw a family tie at MSD - the school features art by Joe Bighetty, Caribou’s father. Bighetty, also deaf, attended the school in the late 1990s and early 2000s - a mural he painted, framed drawings of his and a bench he built and painted are still at the school.

Along with Caribou, her mother and one of her EAs, Anita Pilgrim, also went down to Winnipeg - Pilgrim and Caribou were featured in a video shown to the trustees. Caribou got to go down to MSD for a second week earlier this month, with another week-long visit in the works for this month.

“I think one of the great things about having her mom go down, she just saw her daughter blossom. I think that the joy that Arabella experienced while there kind of gave her the push to take her the second week,” said Idiris.

“I really hope that this is something that they can extend into the next year. We'll see how it goes - I'm hopeful that it can happen.”

While in Winnipeg, Caribou also had an appointment with an audiologist and underwent hearing tests. She will be getting two new devices, picked out by her and tailored to meet her needs. If the devices work and Caribou’s hearing is even partially restored, she will have to go through more training - a program called Learn to Hear will be needed to teach Caribou about different sounds.

“Even if she can hear, she can't process those sounds in the same way that we can - like she literally has to learn how to process those sounds,” said Idiris.

The Manitoba First Nation Education Resource Centre and the inclusion branch of the provincial education ministry helped organize Caribou’s visit, along with the provincial Deaf and Hard of Hearing consultant team. Funding from the province was not received to cover Pilgrim’s travel, leading to the division itself covering much of the EA’s cost to travel.

“I think it was worth every penny. Thank you very much for doing that for a student,” said Idiris to the board.

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