Entire Maine Elementary School Learns Sign Language to Support Kindergartner with Hearing Loss
June 12, 2019
When Morey Belanger began attending Maine’s Dayton Consolidated School in 2017, she became its only student with a hearing impairment. To make the kindergartner’s experience more inclusive, the school’s 160-some students and staffers decided to learn sign language.
“From the get-go [Morey] was really well supported. It makes me happy to see her supported, loved and accepted,” Shannon Belanger, Morey’s mother, tells PEOPLE. “[Morey] is excited to go to school every day. She’s made really good friendships … She’s happy and I’m happy to see her happy.”
Morey, now 6, was diagnosed at 1 with a hearing disorder so rare that there is no name for it, Shannon says. She suffers moderate to severe hearing loss and wears hearing aids as well as using sign language. With that, the Dayton family prioritized Morey’s special needs when looking for schools for the little girl.
“We interviewed with a couple schools before Morey started kindergarten. It’s always daunting as a parent with a special needs child. You just don’t know what to expect and you’re nervous and you’re scared,” Shannon admits.
“Are you making the right decision? Thankfully, they were very accommodating and excited to have Morey be part of their school and their community.”
And Dayton Consolidated School seemed to be the right place. Since Morey joined the school, officials have placed sign language posters through the hallways and students have learned how to sign dozens of words, school Principal Kimberly Sampietro tells PEOPLE.
The school even now has a hearing assistive system and teachers have undergone training to incorporate sign language into their classrooms.
“We are providing access to all students so that they have an awareness of sign. If we have an assembly and our whole school goes, we’re offering that sign support,” Sampietro says.
“So kids are seeing it embedded into things continually. Lots of people across the school, whether it’s the lunch lady or our music teacher, are learning even just basic signs to be a part of the communication.”
Recently, the school invited a Disney princess, Cinderella, who knows sign language to speak with students, according to CNN. Sweet photos showed Morey in Cinderella’s lap and signing along with the character.
“She has felt the love,” Sampietro says of Morey. “I just saw her in the hall and one of the fifth graders … walked right up to her and gave her a big hug. It’s just another wonderful example of showing how people are different, and different is good. It’s been great for inclusion.”
Shannon agrees. The doting mom of two says she’s pleased with the love being shown to her daughter.
“Seeing kids run up to her and hug her and want to have her join in with them and sit at lunch and go to birthday parties, it just really warms your heart,” Shannon tells PEOPLE. “For me, it shows that it is possible for families and schools to work together and to provide an environment that can help kids with special needs succeed.