Lead Mine Elementary School’s newest students are easy to find at the North Raleigh school, because they’re constantly surrounded by their school buddies.
The three students in Lead Mine’s new class for those who are both legally blind and deaf have a wave of helpers who eat lunch with them, escort them around the building and read with them in class. In just three months, the newcomers have bonded with the school community.
“The learning that takes place in that classroom and in every classroom that they are a participant in goes well beyond those three students,” Aaron Marcin, principal of Lead Mine, said in an interview Wednesday. “It actually reaches and touches all students and adults in our school community.
“We have learned how to look for the gifts and talents in others rather than looking at what a person needs in order to learn.”
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But equally as important, according to Marcin and teacher Rita Vermeulen, is that the three students are learning now in a program geared toward meeting their specific needs.
“They were students last year,” Marcin said. “But they’ve become learners this year.”
Last school year, the three students attended other special-education programs in the Wake County school system. But Wake school officials say they realized those students’ needs weren’t being adequately met in the other programs.
Lead Mine proved to be a natural fit for the program because it already has a high percentage of special-education students. The school also recently opened a playground for students with disabilities after spending more than three years raising money.
Wake school officials say the Lead Mine blended class may be the only public school program in the nation specifically for students who are both deaf and blind.
Vermeulen said that because she and the three instructional assistants are only working with students who are visually and hearing impaired, they can adapt how they teach the children.
On Wednesday, Vermeulen and Moriah Armstrong, 8, a second-grade student, worked through different exercises to help him count and recognize patterns. She modified some of the material to include Braille to help Moriah, who goes by Mo, read and count.
Marcin said the adaptations have helped remove barriers that frustrated the students in the past.
“It’s reduced their frustrations, which improved their behavior greatly,” Marcin said.
Vermeulen said the ultimate goal is to help mainstream the three students as much as possible while also providing them additional support to help them educationally.
Along the way, other Lead Mine students are ready to assist their new classmates. Vermeulen said other teachers have told her they’re surprised at how much of an effect the newcomers are having on their students.
“They are so interested in being around our kids,” Vermeulen said of the rest of the school’s students. “They want to do more to help.”
Thomas Hazelwood, 7, a first-grade student, loves to help Mo and the other students in the new class. It helps that Mo is so outgoing, rushing to meet other students and adults who are around him.
“Sometimes Mo comes up and hugs me,” Thomas said. “Mo comes to me because he’s funny and I’m funny.”