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Hearing with the Heart

Sid Shapiro and her Students

Sid Shapiro with her students: Kaia, Axel, Junior, Jonathan Alan, Nico.

On one sunny, clear, and blue sky day in March, it’s right before lunch. Sid Shapiro’s students are taking their hearing equipment off, about to charge their personal FM systems. The kids are excited when Ms. Shapiro asks them if they are looking forward to the upcoming field trips in April. Their faces light up. Little Jonathan is excited to buy carrots at the supermarket. Shapiro leads the transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students to the bus with her teacher aides, Jené Newman and Robin Gurule — the younger students go home at 11:20 a.m.

It’s interesting what indelible memories stay with you forever. This writer remembers when he took his first field trip in kindergarten to the grocery store. The memory isn’t just that he went to the supermarket, but that he had a lot of fun weighing apples with his best friend Joey and was exposed to a colorful, new, exciting world.

This spring, a new generation will embark on those same first steps out into the world, when the Cleveland Elementary Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) students visit the supermarket.

Sid Shapiro's students get ready for a field trip.

“Field trips are huge; it’s an opportunity for the whole program to grow,” said Sid Shapiro, the DHH program teacher at Cleveland. “I definitely love seeing when they learn something new. It’s extra magical when you’re working with the deaf because about 90 percent of the families don’t know sign language, so our students have no communication at home. It’s very difficult for our kids, so when we are able to teach them not just about academics, but something about life, that’s awesome.”

Thanks in large part to the Long Beach chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), a professional association committed to expanding the achievement of individuals with special needs, Ms. Shapiro’s DHH students, comprising transitional kindergarten, kindergarten, first and second graders, have had the opportunity to go on many enriching field trips recently.

“Year after year, CEC has helped us take our children to places like the Long Beach Water Department, El Dorado Park Nature Center, and The Japanese Gardens at Long Beach State. They are a really, really fabulous program.”

The CEC awarded Cleveland Elementary School with the Community Based Instruction (CBI) Grant, which gives special education programs the opportunity to learn outside the classroom. The money received through this CBI grant cannot be used to buy supplies, books or anything in the classroom, but rather, it must be used to take children out into the community to experience real life.

So what do you do with students ages four through six? That was the conundrum of Ms. Shapiro, who had previously taught high school for many years. She came up with the idea to take a field trip to the supermarket.

“Many kids overhear their mom and dad say, while at the store, things like, ‘Oh this is on sale’ or ‘Oh that’s too much sweets,’” Shapiro said. “Our kids don’t get that since they can’t overhear their parents talking, so everything has to be taught — what’s healthy, what’s not healthy, don’t put your finger in that cake on display, things like that.”

On Apr. 10, Ms. Shapiro’s students will explore the world of fruits and vegetables, and yes, maybe even get a box of cookies. They will have a grocery list with, for example, a picture of an apple, along with the word ‘apple,’ and the sign for it. Once the students are finished getting their groceries, they will bring them back to the classroom where they will arrange their items by category, color and size, then count them all out. Then, they can take their own grocery bag home to their family.

“A lot of our kids are in a little bit of need at home. It’s a really nice way to help their families too,” Shapiro said.

The kids will revisit the grocery store on Apr. 24 — this time, for a slightly different reason.

“When we go to the grocery store on the Apr. 24, we are going to teach them to give back to the community, because you can never start too young,” Shapiro said. “We are going to go to the grocery store and get some healthy snacks. Then, the kids are going to bring it back to school and we are going to get little gift bags. They’re going to have to count out three cereal bars, two apples, and one post-it note, then write ‘thank you,’ sign their name, and tie everything together with a ribbon.”

Then, on Apr. 26, Shapiro said, the students will walk to the firehouse on the corner and give the gift bags to firefighters as a token of gratitude. Shapiro said it will also teach them to use their expressive language skills — practice signing to other people and get experience with using an interpreter.

When Shapiro herself learned sign language to become a deaf and hard of hearing educator, she knew she had found her calling. In June 2000, Shapiro moved from Brooklyn to the West Coast where she was a French teacher. She already had her master’s degree in special education, so she quickly found a job teaching in the valley before moving to the Long Beach Unified School District in 2004. Meanwhile, she got her second master’s in deaf education while teaching.

“I’ve learned so much from my teacher aides, coming from teaching high school; they’ve taught me a lot about bringing community instruction to this age,” Shapiro said. “One of the best things about our program here is the amazing teamwork and comradery,” she said almost on cue as she greets another teacher’s aide outside, Carey Flake, who served as a teacher’s aide/interpreter for 32 years. Now retired, Flake comes back to Cleveland Elementary to spread some cheer to the kids and Shapiro.

“Care is the word that comes to mind teaching here at Cleveland,” Shapiro says as she gives a goodbye hug to Flake and gives the thumbs up to her students leaving on the bus. Shapiro also pretends to be a flying superhero, giving encouragement to a student who is apprehensive about putting on his safety harness before boarding the bus.

Shapiro then added with a tear in her eye, “Our principal, Ellen Ryan, is incredibly supportive — she showcases our special education students every opportunity she gets. She cares about our kids tremendously and it’s really, really nice that our kids are recognized for the amazing people that they are. And just because they can’t hear doesn't make them any different, they love playing, laughing and learning just the same.”


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