Once they realized who they were with, no ice breaker was needed. Nine deaf elementary students from Richmond County and five from McDuffie County got together last Friday in the media center of the new Thomson-McDuffie Junior High School for an activity time with their peers.
"When they first came in, they sort of just stood there for a minute. Then, they realized that everybody could sign, and suddenly everybody's hand started going at once," said Rachel Faish, the Deaf Education Specialist for the Regional Education Service Agency.
Most deaf students in Georgia either attend the Georgia School for the Deaf in Cave Springs, or receive their education through inclusion in the regular classroom of their local school.
A new requirement this year of Individual Education Plans mandated by the state is documentation of the amount of time each student spends in contact and interaction with their peers, according to McDuffie County's deaf education specialist, Becky Bresnahan.
"But because they each go to different schools, it's hard to have that interaction time," she said. "So we decided to have a special field trip where they could get together."
The Richmond County students performed a skit for the McDuffie students, and then games were played with the group as a whole. The first game, the elephant game, is popular with deaf students, according to Ms. Bresnahan. The students sit on the floor in a circle, and one student stands in the middle of the circle, covers his eyes and spins around, then with his eyes still covered, points to someone sitting on the floor. That person must quickly stack their fists on their nose to create a snout, while their neighbor on each side must place a cupped hand to the person's ear to create elephant ears. All of this must be done before the pointer uncovers their eyes and catches the elephant not yet complete.
The next game was "duck, duck, goose." Ms. Bresnahan said instead of verbalizing the words "duck" and "goose" as they went around the circle, the deaf students tap their classmates' heads lightly for "duck" and slap harder for "goose."
"Duck, duck, goose was my favorite," eight-year-old Sarah Helm, who attends Lake Forrest Elementary School in Augusta, said in sign language. "It was fun playing together with everybody, and I enjoyed myself."
After the group games, the students broke into pairs or smaller groups for board games and crafts. Pizza was delivered for lunch, but it didn't really matter how hot it was when it arrived.
"When the deaf get together, they enjoy talking to each other so much that they don't keep track of the time," Ms. Bresnahan said. "We'll just eat whenever they get tired of visiting. They won't care. We're on their time."
Two Richmond County teachers, several interpreters/parapros and two deaf adults also attended the activity. At one point, Eleanor Foshee entertained the students and brought on much laughter by telling stories in sign language. Ms. Foshee is a retired sign language teacher who remains active as an advocate for the deaf.
Ms. Bresnahan said another activity is in the works, and hopefully they'll be able to include students from more counties. Dustin Cason, an eighth grader at TMJH school, isn't concerned with IEP requirements and said it doesn't matter how many students are involved or what their ages are, just as long as they get together.
"I had fun," he said. "It was a good time. Plus, it gets me out of class."