by Jennifer M. Lilla ’06
In February, schools across the country took part in the 11th annual Read Across America (RAA). This celebration, timed each year to coincide with the birthday of beloved children’s author Dr. Suess, is dedicated to showing students the importance of reading.
As part of its RAA festivities, Petway Elementary School in Vineland invited 55 readers from the community to share their love of reading with the students. Petway has nine students, ranging in grades 1 to 5, who are deaf/hard of hearing. Responding to a request from Jean Slobodzian ’76, assistant professor in the Department of Special Education, Language, and Literacy at TCNJ, Jennifer Lilla ’06 and Tara (Todd) McMenamin ’94 invited 14 deaf education majors from TCNJ to take part in Petway’s RAA activities. Lilla and McMenamin are teachers of the deaf at Petway.
The trip offered the 14 TCNJ students a truly unique opportunity. In just one visit, they were able to experience a self-contained classroom or an inclusion classroom, have their first experience working with an interpreter, and gain a better understanding of their eventual roles in the classroom once they become teachers of the deaf.
Students from the College had to prepare a lesson in which they chose a grade-appropriate book and then developed an activity that related to the material. When asked about the visit, Petway student Isabella Jimenez, 8, whose class was lead by Debbie DeVito ’09 and Lauren Senko ’09, said, “The book was really cool. It was about a girl who moved from Mexico to the United States. She kept a diary and wrote about all the things that happened to her. When Debbie and Lauren were done reading it, we got to make our own diaries. Now I have my own.”
Ethan Hersher, 8, had the same enjoyable experience. His class was paired up with Jaime Eger ’09 and Kate Krueger ’09, who chose to read a story on how to find a pet rock. They introduced the story by presenting the students with rocks, challenging the children’s ability to compare and contrast the similarities and differences. As the culminating activity, each Petway student was able to pick his or her own rock and decorate it. “Now I have my own pet rock, just like in the story,” said Hersher.
In just one hour, TCNJ’s deaf education majors were able to accomplish the goal of getting the students excited about reading. “Their lesson was amazing!” said Staci King, 2nd grade teacher at Petway.
Slobodzian coordinated the event as part of the Classroom Application of Sign Communication Systems course she teaches to majors in the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program at TCNJ. Slobodzian, who was Lilla’s teacher at TCNJ, said “This experience was an excellent example of mentoring, collaboration, and connections between TCNJ faculty and former students. It speaks well to the success of our alumni, and especially of [Jen and Tara’s] willingness to give back to [their] alma mater by helping the next generation of teachers-in-training.”
Lilla and McMenamin hope to collaborate more often with students in TCNJ’s deaf and hard of hearing/elementary education program. “We have a lot to offer and a variety of settings in which the students from TCNJ can observe and experience to prepare them for the future,” said McMenamin. “The students of TCNJ are always welcome back to Petway any time their schedule allows!”