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USAO deaf education program GETS $1.2M BOOST from Jane Brooks legacy

Meghan Duggins  (Senior, deaf education major, Pleasanton, KS)- Photo by Heather Heck

As if USAO’s deaf education program wasn’t already completely unique, a $1.2 million cash infusion will only strengthen and further distinguish the only public program of its kind in Oklahoma and the oldest similar degree program west of the Mississippi.

When deaf education moved into the wholly redesigned Canning Hall in 2009, USAO took another leap forward in the field, welcoming a satellite school from the Oklahoma School for the Deaf (OSD) and crafting a unique partnership to better serve the deaf and students in deaf education.

But the latest news – the transfer of Jane Brooks School (JBS) assets to the USAO Foundation – is the perfect tribute to the legacy of the late Jane Brooks, daughter to Margaret Brooks, a deaf educator and legend who devoted her life to serving the deaf in Oklahoma. Now a restricted fund bearing her name will bolster deaf education for generations to come at USAO.

President John Feaver is ecstatic. “This announcement only strengthens USAO’s brand as Oklahoma’s only public liberal arts college, distinct in Oklahoma and among a select few similar colleges in America,” he said. “This new fund will be used exclusively to enhance deaf education services and programs at USAO. It’s a perfect fit.”

“We are proud to provide management for JBS assets that will support deaf education for generations to come,” said Dr. Michael Nealeigh, vice president for advancement at USAO. “USAO’s leadership in this field just took a big step forward.”

USAO’s relationship with JBS began in 1953, when the school for the deaf moved operations from Purcell to the OCW campus. In 1970, JBS left the USAO campus and built its own facility near downtown Chickasha. The sale of that property earlier this year brings the Jane Brooks name and legacy back to campus in a new form.

Further extending Brooks’ legacy, the OSD now uses the Jane Brooks’ name for its satellite school on the USAO campus, although Nealeigh clarifies, the Jane Brooks school name remains with the university.

Even before this announcement in June, USAO already was the regional destination for those seeking to become deaf educators. Students in that program come from Texas, Kansas and Missouri, but have come from all areas of the country.

“The feedback we get from employers,” said Dr. Vicki Ferguson, professor and chair of the education and speech language pathology department, “is that USAO deaf ed grads are highly qualified and ready to hit the ground running upon graduation. Ferguson has been a full-time member of the USAO faculty since 1988 and received her doctorate from the University of Oklahoma.

Although USAO deaf education graduates are qualified to teach deaf children at every level, all students complete an additional concentration in early childhood, elementary, or one of the secondary specialty areas. In addition to extensive focus on language development, curriculum, and instructional pedagogy for children with hearing loss, deaf education majors spend hours developing signing skills and gaining experience in the deaf community.

“The training our students receive prepare them to work not only in environments created specifically to cater to the needs of deaf and hard of hearing students but also to function in a standard K-12 classroom,” Ferguson said.

“They go where the need is.”

In the ASL classroom, USAO deaf education students are offered varying levels of immersion. One American Sign Language (ASL) course may involve a group discussion that turns into a role-playing exercise in which students act out real world situations, such as ordering dinner or asking for a particular item in a store, only using sign.

Other courses feature a completely immersive format where the professor teaches and the students respond entirely in ASL.

Students who choose deaf education as a major not only gain an extensive understanding of the teaching environment in which they will be expected to operate, but also leave with the experience of working with and within the local deaf community.

“Our students have exposure to the deaf community and all the variables involved in working with people from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures,” said Dr. Cylathia Daniel, assistant professor of deaf education. Daniel earned her degrees at Texas Tech University before joining the USAO faculty in 2009 after the program moved to Canning Hall.

The deaf education program at USAO offers distinct and broad opportunities for future deaf educators by encouraging outreach to the local deaf community. Such outreach activities have included “silent dinners” and “ASL matches.” The department also allows the community use of a videophone in Canning Hall.

“The sense of community that develops among our students has been proven to endure well-beyond graduation,” said Dr. Judy Brawner, instructor in deaf education and coordinator for the deaf education teacher preparation program. Brawner received her master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma.

“It’s not something that we require or expect of our grads but we’re always proud to see it happen over and over again.”