2 of 3 Minnesota schools for deaf merge

  • Article by: GREGORY A. PATTERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 22, 2009 - 9:31 PM

The merger of Metro Deaf School and North Star Academy, two schools for the hearing-impaired, means more classrooms, more extracurricular options and more "community."

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First-grade teacher Amanda Rausch led her class in a morning activity using a drum at the Metro Deaf School. BELOW: First-grader Yahir Sanchez-Araujo. Metro Deaf School and North Star Academy just became the first two charter schools to merge in Minnesota.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Opened in 1993, Metro Deaf School was only the second charter school started in Minnesota. This year it became the first charter school to complete a merger with another charter school in a move intended to cut costs and give students more education options and continuity.

Metro Deaf School and North Star Academy -- now merged -- were two of three schools in Minnesota designed specifically for deaf students. With fewer than one in 1,000 people younger than 18 considered deaf, their education opportunities have been limited. Minnesota has 2,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing students statewide, officials say.

On Thursday, the school will host a "grand opening" to celebrate completion of the merger. Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Alice Seagren and Bobbie Beth Scoggins, president of the National Association of the Deaf, are scheduled to attend.

The Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault is the only other public school for deaf students, though many attend deaf programs in public school districts or are mainstreamed in classes with hearing children. The Faribault school is a residence facility with dormitories, but also has students attending on a daily basis.

The merged school has 95 students and occupies the expanded facility that Metro Deaf School was using that includes a new gym and new classrooms for the upper grades. Leaders still haven't decided on a formal name.

"It's very beneficial to everyone," said Barb Boelter, a member of the school's board who also helped found Metro Deaf School 16 years ago. The merger blends the old Metro Deaf School's prekindergarten through eighth grade with North Star Academy's ninth through 12th grades.

Charter schools for deaf students mark the will of parents to bypass the boarding school approach. "As a parent, I couldn't fathom sending my kids away," said Boelter, whose daughter recently graduated from North Star Academy. "That's not why I had kids."

The schools also represent a rejection of the mainstreaming concept. "Deafness is a culture," said Dyan Sherwood, the school's director of planning and development. While deaf students can be isolated in mainstreaming situations, that is less likely to happen when they are in a small school where all students are deaf and so is half the teaching staff.

The merger was a difficult task, Sherwood said, if only because it hadn't been done before in Minnesota.

But one key benefit is that more students and teachers will help the institution carry out its mission of being a bilingual school -- meaning that it teaches students in American Sign Language and in written English, Sherwood said.

What's more, the school will offer classes it couldn't before, including Spanish, and it now has a full-time psychologist.

Gregory A. Patterson • 612-673-7287

IF YOU GO

A grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the new high school gymnasium at 1471 Brewster St., St. Paul.

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