A new $13 million high school for the deaf, established to help close the education gap between deaf and hearing students, will soon begin a nationwide recruitment drive to bring 375 additional students to the school's unique facilities on the campus of Gallaudent College.
The contemporary-styled Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD), which consists of athletic, residential and academic buildings, was designed by architect James N. Freehof of HTB, Inc., and serves as both a "real high school" featuring a wide range of academic courses and a model school, which each year draws 4,000 international visitors, who come to observe its operations.
Built entirely with federal fund, the school currently has 175 students, about three-quarters of whom live in new dormitories which opened a month ago. Because the school is federally funded, tuition and room and board are free. The three-year recruitment drive will raise the enrollment to about 550. The school was founded in 1970 after a study conducted by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare revealed that only 8 per cent of deaf high school students entered post-secondary educational programs compared with 54 per cent of hearing students.
Constructions of the entire complex began in 1973 and will be finished soon with the completion of several dormitories. The school will be officially dedicated Oct. 5 at ceremonies which are expected to draw members of Congress and the President's Cabinet.
MSSD's atmosphere is decidedly non-institutional. Its facilities easily rival those of many colleges. The academic building - designed along the lines of an open classroom - is set up to adapt to the school's innovative program of individualized instruction for deaf students. Several classes may be held in one large room and moveable platforms spiral through the core of the classroom building so that visitors can observe classes without disturbing students.
Colors are vivid and clean and the furniture is sleek, modern and comfortable. There is an Olympic-size swimming pool surrounded by windows that afford striking views of woods or the city, a circular greenhouse, wooden sculpture and gardens.
Architect Freehof noted, "Traditionally schools for the deaf have been very controlled and are typically built around an egg-crate plan (where rows of desks face a teacher). This school is designed so that kids are able to move around and receive individualized instruction. We were particularly concerned with keeping everything low-key and not overwhelming. We've compensated for hearing loss by giving students things which are very tactile or visual."
Before MSSD was built, most deaf students attended special state schools, [WORD ILLEGIBLE]William J. A. Marshall, MSSD director.
These kids just weren't able to compete with the hearing kids. It was essential to close the gap."
"There was a serious lack of a high school to prepare students for liberal arts education, and the education deaf kids got was largely trade-oriented. There's nothing wrong with the thinking process of a deaf child. The problem is communication," Freehof said.
The emphasis on communication is reflected in even small architectural details. "You think in terms of deaf people that you don't have to worry about acoustics," said Freehof on a recent tour of the school he spent two years designing. "But many of these kids have a degree of hearing. Right now that hum you can hear but aren't really aware of would drive you nuts if you were wearing a hearing aid. In a lot of cases we've worked acoustic panels into the decor of the buildings."
The academic and residential facilities are equipped with various kinds of sophisticated video technology allowing students to carry on conversations via television screens. Conversation pits are located throughout the classroom buildings and dorms and students are encouraged to sit down and communicate with each other and the staff.
A sign above a row of bubble gum machines reads, "Check you hearing aid here." Students can purchase new batteries for 25 cents from the machines.
Outside the buildings are landscaped areas where students can converse privately in sign language without being seen by others. Freehof explained, "If you were signing outside someone could just look out the window and see what you were saying."
MSSD also serves as an information and teaching center which tests and disseminates educational materials for deaf students nationwide.
"Hearing people take many nuances of language for granted, but for deaf people learning English is like learning a foreign language," a school spokeswoman explained. Concepts like plains, natural gas, turpentine and the difference between a river and a swamp are explained pictorially or in captioned films.
How successful has MSSD been at closing the disparity between deaf and hearing students? Last year, according to Marshall, 95 percent of the graduating class was accepted into post secondary school programs.