Hearing-impaired kids get lift

Rosette Gonzales

Justin Grafman's light-brown locks fell over his bright blue eyes as

he played with other children at the Boys and Girls Club of Burbank

Wednesday. His brother Jake's dark curly hair draped his brow the

same way, but these siblings have more in common than their darling

curls.

Justin, 6, is hard of hearing and Jake, 9, is deaf.

The two attend the deaf and hard-of-hearing program at the Burbank

Boys and Girls Club, a daily after-school program designed to help

children with hearing disabilities function more easily in society.

"We're giving the students edge," said the program's coordinator

Michele Betton, who is also hard of hearing.

Children have more challenges to overcome if they are

hearing-impaired and can become isolated because they don't have

access to the same language as hearing students, Betton said. But

through this program, students get group help with their homework and

develop verbal and sign language so they can communicate.

Before the program began a year ago, many children would return

home to a world of silence after school, said Shanna Vaughan,

executive director for the Boys and Girls Club of Burbank. She helped

start the program with another nonprofit organization, Tripod, which

is now defunct. The two coordinated with Burbank Unified School

District to bus students from Burbank and neighboring districts to

the club.

From 2 to 7 p.m. daily, children play, do crafts and have

small-group homework help for two hours with teachers from Burbank

Unified School District working as independent contractors.

"I do my homework," Destiney Dutton, 9, said. "I play with my

friends. I talk to them. They talk to me."

Destiney likes to communicate through speaking and sign language.

"The kids have full access to academic language in their own

language," said Bill Gallimore, who also teaches at Washington

Elementary and Burbank High School.

Over time, students gain confidence to ask for help in school and

are able to understand the materials better, Betton said.

Justin likes to do his homework at the club, "so my mom can be

happy," he said. He and his brother also like to play with the other

children, though Justin's residual hearing lets him communicate more

verbally, and Jake signs more.

"I like to be with deaf kids," Jake said. "Because if they're

hearing, I can't understand what they're saying."

Though Justin prefers to communicate by speaking, it's beneficial

to learn how to sign and speak, said Alissa Daniels, 16, a

hard-of-hearing student at Burbank High School and coordinator and

sign language translator with the program.

The cost of the program is $200 a month, but scholarships are

available so no child is turned away, Vaughan said.

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