DAYTON, Maine — At Dayton Consolidated School in Maine, one student inspired a big change to the curriculum. Morey Belanger, a 6-year-old kindergartener, is the school’s first deaf student. To make her feel welcome, the school embraced the opportunity to teach all the students some sign language.
Sign language posters now line the walls of hallways, and students have learned how to sign more than 20 words including colors, letters and words related to school.
“Morey — without even knowing it — has taught us so much,” said school Principal Kimberly Sampietro. “She has brought a culture to our building that we didn’t have before.”
The school installed a hearing assistive system and implemented extra teacher training to incorporate sign language into every classroom, including core subjects, music and computer class. Sampietro said many teachers also began using their free time to watch sign language videos and read books on special education.
The kindergarten class is also getting some help from Morey.
“Morey helped all of them to learn the alphabet,” Sampietro said. “The kids have just really embraced her. They look up to her, they want her around, and they want to partner with her.”
Morey’s mom, Shannon Belanger, said her family has been blown away by how supportive the school has been.
“I absolutely feel like it makes her feel welcomed,” Belanger said. “I think all the kids feel excited that they know another language and I think they think it’s fun.”
To celebrate the students’ hard work, the school invited a real-life princess who knows sign language to come speak to students this week.
“We wanted to show our students that this isn’t something they can only speak with Morey,” said Principal Sampietro, who said most students in their rural Maine school have not encountered many people with hearing impairment. “We wanted to show them that signing happens in all kinds of settings.”
Morey’s mom said she loves art and performing. So when Cinderella came to sing to the entire elementary, she helped with the singing and the signing, of course.