Deaf School Stresses Vocational Education

Like Lexington, Riverside School for the Deaf in California, offers vocational services; at the California school, high school students build picnic benches, cook restaurant-style meals in culinary classes and learn drilling and construction skills in shop classes.

It’s all part of the school’s plan to help students overcome the odds.

State statistics show higher unemployment rates for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. The voccational services offered allow students to combat this by gaining real and transferrable experience that helps build resumes.

“Just having a high school diploma is not enough,” said Jeannine De Loye, a program technician on campus for WorkAbility, which places students in internships and helps graduates find jobs.

In the state, the unemployment rate for people who are hard-of-hearing or deaf was 15.7 percent, compared to 11.6 for all Californians, in 2011.

Officials at the deaf school, one of two in the state, aim to prepare students for the additional education they will need to meet their goals.

More than half of the Class of 2010 went to either a community college or four-year college or university, and DeLoye said nearly all of them were continuing education in the career path started while at the deaf school.

Regardless of the type of job, formal training, education and experience a deaf person may have, getting in is barrier No. 1. Many employers initially are reluctant to accept deaf workers, or interns, usually because they don’t know what to expect, De Loye continued.

“The biggest apprehension is communication,”.

The school sends a job coach and sign language interpreter to jobs with interns. The job coach stays at least until the student can meet all the employers’ expectations and the employer and student are comfortable.

“These students know that if they can just get in, they can do a good job because they have the skills,” De Loye said.

Once the internship is over, De Loye said she hears many employers say they want to hire the student for their next opening. But, since the recession began, many businesses may not have an opening for two or three years, and by then the school and graduate have lost contact, she said.

CAREER RECIPES

Through their vocational education classes and internships, students are discovering their interests and goals.

“I’ve had a great five years experience in culinary” arts, said Paradise Larizza, 17, of Moreno Valley, through a sign language interpreter. She said the chefs she worked with at school and at the Riverside Marriott last summer tell her she can expect a good future in the field.

Marriott Human Resources Manager Nelson Porras agreed.

“They do have a good future,” he said. “They have to get the formalized training.”

But first, she said, she wants to continue her formal education in a culinary school, possibly at Riverside City College, Cal State Northridge or Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C., which specializes in educating deaf students.

“I really like the backline cooking and barbecuing,” she said. “I love putting together the substances and having the meat taste so good.”

School spokeswoman Laurie Pietro Waggoner said the culinary classes are the most popular in the career technical education department.

FINDING THEIR WAY

Dominque Yeboah, 17, of Rialto, found her interest last summer when she interned at Woodcrest Montessori, teaching sign language and assisting young children. She now wants to be a teacher.

Yeboah came from West Liberia when she was 11 and thinks she may return there to teach English after college.

Some students seem to enjoy diverse job responsibilities.

Shaz Booth, 18, also a senior at the school, was eager to leave campus last week to get to his internship at the Center on Deafness – Inland Empire, a few blocks from the school.

He said, through an interpreter, that he does a variety of things there, including helping clients with paperwork. The center has an advocate who helps people in sign language when they have trouble understanding complicated forms printed in English, Booth said.

De Loye said the work experiences improve graduates’ job prospects, but the paradigm is different than it was years ago.

“The idea that you graduate high school, get a job and stay there 40 years is changing,” she said.

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