Conjugating verbs and identifying a noun’s gender in a Spanish class is tough enough. Now imagine that you are doing it through an American Sign Language interpreter who doesn’t speak the language, who is following a teacher who doesn’t sign. That’s just a typical day for Estefanía Peña. And she’s mastering the Spanish language, having never heard it, and has managed to keep an A average all the while. Her Spanish teacher, Ms. Sherry Radford, recognized in her such a dedication to learningand to helping othersthat she nominated her for the NBC 7/39 and San Diego County of Education Inspirational Student of the Month program. Peña’s story has aired several times in the last two weeks on the local NBC affiliate.
A tenth grader at Eastlake High, Peña keeps up with a rigorous academic schedule with the assistance of sign language interpreters. At least two interpreters shadow her in her classes, taking 20-minute stretches of non-stop signing to keep her in the know. These trained professionals tackle every subject that Peña doeseven a foreign language.
When Ms. Radford was first told that she would have a hearing-impaired student in her Spanish class, who would be accompanied by an interpreter, she wasn’t sure what to expect. Especially after she found out that her interpreter did not speak the language herself. But she quickly found out the speed with which Peña and her interpreters would adapt. Through phoenetic spelling of Radford’s teaching, Peña catches everything as well asor even better thanher peers. As a matter of fact, Ratford feels that her prize student has raised the bar of learning for her classmates.
“There are no excuses for the other students,” explained Radford. “If Estefanía can learn Spanish through interpreters who don’t even speak the language, and ace the class, then her peers have no reason not to try their best.”
Peña’s desire to do well in school is not the only reason that she was nominated for this award. Having experienced for herself the struggle of acclimating to a hearing world, she has founded a sign language club at Eastlake High to help hearing-impaired students provide each other with support and friendships. And Peña’s club has reached out to hearing students as well, merging their two worlds.
With her family and friends at her sidethey stormed her classroom with balloons, hugs and tearsPeña accepted her award from NBC 7/39’s Rory Devine and Susan Renick, local branch representative of sponsor Coldwell Banker. She emotionally thanked her teacher, her mother and her other friends and family members who have helped to support her and encourage her to reach ever-higher goals for herself. And she noted that with their help, she’ll follow through on her plans to go into psychology after graduation from Eastlake High.
The Inspirational Student of the Month program is less than a year old. Started in October 2003, seven students throughout San Diego County have been recognized for their efforts. Sweetwater’s first honoree was Juan Galvan of San Ysidro High, honored in January of this year.
Galvan, a San Ysidro High sophomore, was nominated by special education teacher Michael Strauss. Galvan is a student aide in one of Strauss’ classes and has quickly come to realize that his involvement makes a difference.
“Juan has truly made an impact on the lives of each of my students,” said Strauss. “He has shown us who work with him to go beyond the limitations set by ourselves and society and to be successful where no success seems possible.”
Galvan has worked to bridge the divide that can be found between special and general education students through a club called Best Buddies. He’s the Vice-President of the San Ysidro High chapter of the organization that builds relationships between general education students and those in moderate to severe special education classes.
And these are just two of the Sweetwater District’s more than 39,000 middle, junior high and high school students. Inspirational students can be found at every turn in the South Bayand their recognition is appreciated.