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Voices off, connections made

Silent professional development day gives staff greater insight

Northview — Listen in on any professional development session and you’re bound to hear engaging speakers, the clamor of collaboration and lots of laughter.

All those elements were present except for one at a recent PD session for one group of local educators. The gathering for the 40 or so administrators, teachers, interpreters and support specialists in the district’s total communication program took part entirely in American Sign Language.

The silent professional development day, held in late September at Camp Tuhsmeheta in Greenville, was aimed at team-building and professional enrichment in the program’s main method of communication.

“To actually be doing team-building with other people who can sign is awesome, and their communication is top-notch.”

— Marc Fiting, ASL instructor and teacher

“Sign language is the common core of how we connect kids with their education through a variety of different avenues, with the end result to be career- or college-ready,” said Trish Lopucki, Northview’s deaf/hard of hearing coordinator. “If that is our expectation for our students, in which environment do we best grow?” 

Leah Kurlenda, a teacher in the program since 2006, said the silent PD day “has been a cool way to be with my working peers, using the language we all share. Here, everyone’s signing, so everyone is included.”

Marc Fiting knows what that feels like. The ASL instructor and teacher, who is deaf, joined the district this year. “I worked at a hearing school for the past eight years before coming here, so I always had an interpreter,” he signed. 

He called silent PD day “inspiring.”

“To actually be doing team-building with other people who can sign is awesome,” he said, “and their communication is top-notch.”

Lopucki said it was the first time in her decade with the program that a silent PD day was offered. Not all staffers are fluent in ASL, she noted, so the event gave them an opportunity, like some of their students, “to see what it feels like to be in an environment where your language isn’t the one spoken most.” 

The district houses the oral deaf/hard of hearing program for some 80 students this year from across the Kent ISD member area. It offers specialized instruction to help students develop listening and spoken language skills to fully participate in academic and social opportunities in their school and communities. 

The total communication program is offered at Northview’s West Oakview Elementary, Highlands and Crossroads middle schools and the high school. Currently, the youngest student is four months old. Lopucki said it is one of the largest programs of its kind in Michigan.

It is one of two programs operated by Kent ISD. The other is the oral deaf program at North Oakview, where ASL is not used.

Explore more unique video stories of students learning, interesting school programs and educators working to help all children succeed.

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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