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LIFE Academy: Finding their voice through sign language

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

LIFE Academy is one of the only inclusive schools in our region of Haiti where children, both typically developing and special needs, learn together under the same roof. The Gospel is at the center of LIFE Academy’s curriculum. Children learn from a young age the inherent value, worth, and dignity of every person as a beloved child of God. We have seen our students as young as Kindergarten leading adults by example outside school walls by sticking up for those with special needs who are often looked down upon in Haitian culture.

At LIFE Academy, “special education” is an individualized learning environment for children with a varying range of disabilities from physical to developmental and emotional. This 2020-2021 school year we have 33 special education students including those who are blind, deaf, non-verbal, have down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or other developmental delays, among others. LIFE Academy’s special education arm includes a language/hearing impaired class, a braille/seeing impaired class, and a LIFE skills class.

Our sign language class has been particularly LIFE-transformative to watch as children find their voice and are able to interact with the world in a way they couldn’t prior. The education they are receiving at LIFE Academy is changing their entire world and the way they are able to interact with it.

Back in 2013 one of our first teachers at LIFE Academy, Jean Marc, became passionate about teaching sign language after he stumbled upon a “Sign Language for Beginners” book.

“I wasn’t too sure about what God was calling me to do because up until this point, I was just a normal teacher. I knew there was a teenager in Neply that could not hear and was learning sign language so I wanted to see what would happen if I learned a little bit of the language and tried to talk to him,” Jean Marc said.

He took the book home and decided to teach himself.

“When I tried out some of the signs I learned on him and saw that he understood, that was the moment I knew I wanted to learn the entire language. And after that, we started to receive students in our school that could not hear or talk like him. I knew that it was my responsibility to learn sign language so I can teach this kids to change their lives,” Jean Marc said.

Today, Jean Marc is the head sign language teacher at LIFE Academy and has 11 students in his class who are deaf, mute, or have speech impediments.

For these children who have language/hearing impairments, learning sign language has changed everything in terms of quality of LIFE and ability to express themselves. It removes the chains of not being able to communicate, gives them confidence, and a voice in the world. Mosts importantly, it helps our students understand their worth and value. Even if their family and friends don’t officially know sign language, the children are given the confidence to communicate in their own creative ways with loved ones.

Jean Marc has since trained four classroom teaching assistants using books, DVDs, and Youtube to learn.

We continue to grow our special education programming to account for commUNITY needs and are hoping to offer a sign language course for parents and members of our village commUNITY in the near future. This way our sign language students can communicate with more people in their daily lives beyond their classmates and teachers.

We are extremely proud of this program and have seen lives changed through the empowerment that comes with learning sign language.

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