Kindergarteners learn sign language to make first deaf student, 6, feel welcome at school

One little girl in Dayton, Maine, has unknowingly changed the culture of her entire school when she became the first and only deaf student to attend.

Morey Belanger, 6, was diagnosed with a genetic disorder when she was one so rare that it doesn’t even have a name, according to her mother, Shannon Belanger. But one of the side effects that can result is hearing loss, which Morey has already experienced. Shannon tells Yahoo Lifestyle that her daughter currently has moderate to severe hearing loss and wears a hearing aid, and uses sign language to communicate. When she started to attend elementary school in 2017, her classmates at Dayton Consolidated School learned how to communicate with Morey in that same way.

“When she became of age to go to kindergarten, we had some options and met with Dayton Consolidated and they were, from the get-go, excited and interested and willing to help learn sign language or provide the services that she needed,” Shannon explains.

Still, she and her husband had anticipated that the teachers interacting with their daughter would learn sign language out of necessity. Never did they imagine that the students would learn it as well.

Morey Belanger, 6, has been welcomed by her classmates who all learned sign language to communicate with her. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Belanger)
Morey Belanger, 6, has been welcomed by her classmates who all learned sign language to communicate with her. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Belanger)

“It makes our whole family just emotional,” Shannon says. “[The school’s] gone beyond our expectation.”

Dayton Consolidated School Principal Kim Sampietro, however, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that teaching sign language to Morey’s classmates, hanging sign language posters in the hallway and providing teachers with a hearing assistive system was a change to accommodate the student that they’d make for anybody else.

“It’s not just her classroom teacher or her teacher who works closely with her — she also goes to gym class, she also goes to the library. So teachers throughout the building are adapting in order to be able to communicate what’s best for her,” Sampietro explains. “That’s what we did because that’s what was right, so I don’t think we thought too much of it because this is one of our students.”

But even if making those changes was simply the right thing to do, nobody at the school would deny the impact that Morey, and the need to learn sign language, has had on the school.

“She’s just brought something to our community that wouldn’t have been there. I think any time you have a child that has something different about who they are, it’s an opportunity for learning, it’s an opportunity for growth. And Morey has certainly brought that to us,” Sampietro says. “And again, she has no clue that she’s doing this.”

The school made an effort to communicate Morey’s importance and acknowledge the hard work of her classmates with a party on Friday during which Cinderella was invited to come and sing to Morey’s kindergarten class in sign language.

Sampietro explains that the school worked with a company called Rent a Princess to hire a high school student who specializes in sign language to come and hang out with the class as Cinderella. For Morey, it was an opportunity to have a rare interaction with a princess who is just like her, while others in the class were able to see how sign language is incorporated into people’s lives beyond Morey.

“It was better than I could’ve anticipated. It was great. And the kids were awed,” Sampietro says of the party. “They got to see sign language, and we made the connection to that’s how Morey speaks. So it was a great, great few hours.”

As for Morey’s family, Shannon says that events like these are what ensures that her daughter is on the right path.

“When you have a kid with special needs and who needs a lot of help and attention, you worry, are you making the right choices? Are you doing what’s best for your child? And to have her welcomed and supported and loved, kids running up and giving her hugs and inviting her to birthday parties and having her join in, it makes us just feel like she’s where she should be and that she’s gonna be taken care of and supported like she needs to be throughout her years at this school,” Shannon says. “She’ll be with the same class through 5th grade, so I imagine all these kids are just gonna continue to grow and maybe continue to learn more sign language. It just makes her feel like she’s part of the community and accepted as she is.”

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