IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

American School for the Deaf Launches Global Virtual Academy

The nearly 205-year-old school in West Hartford, Conn. is offering online bilingual courses in English, mathematics, science and social studies to deaf children worldwide, ages 12 to 16, supplementary to other schooling.

Deaf student on laptop with sign language
(TNS) — The American School for the Deaf in West Hartford is offering an “Online Academy” this school year, the first of its kind in the institution’s nearly 205 year history. The virtual academy — initially intended to supplement public, private or homeschooling programs — is open to both deaf and hearing children ages 12-16.

Members of the deaf community regularly used video chat and conferencing tools long before the coronavirus pandemic, said Stacey Katz Shapiro, the academy’s online coordinator. At the same time, ASD executive director Jeff Bravin and other educational administrators have been brainstorming “for years” a way to better support students who have limited interaction with other deaf and hard-of-hearing peers or American Sign Language (ASL) education opportunities through their typical schooling, she said.

COVID-19 helped to “crystalize” the idea for the program, Katz Shapiro explained, as the pandemic forced many educators to work with students virtually.

“There’s a lot of technology and equipment that’s available to make online learning more engaging, and I think COVID definitely pushed ... curriculum and education to be more available in an online way. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be doing it,” she said.

The supplementary program began in early September and ends in May. Classes are taught Monday through Thursday, taking a bilingual approach to courses in English, mathematics, science and social studies for students in grades 6 through 10. Each course costs about $5,000, and each class lasts about 70 minutes. To ensure students and instructors can see each other clearly on their computer screens, class sessions are limited to eight children. The academy employs nine teachers who are certified in their state of residence, and one-on-one tutoring is also available.

So far, 52 students have enrolled in the academy, some of whom live in Connecticut, other regions of the U.S., or as far away as Italy and Ukraine. In addition to deaf students, the program is also offering ASL classes to students at a hearing high school, who take the courses as their world language, said Katz Shapiro. With 120 contact hours, the classes can be used to fulfill credit requirements for high school graduation, as well as support the federally required Individualized Education Programs of students with special needs. They can also prepare students to enroll in ASD or other schools for the deaf.

“A lot of countries outside of the United States don’t have services like we have [here],” Katz Shapiro said, adding that within the U.S., some school districts are also experiencing shortages of educators trained to communicate directly with deaf students.

Going forward, the school is looking to provide social opportunities and extracurricular clubs for students in addition to academic support, she added.

“This is our pilot year, so we’re experimenting, and nothing is off the table when people call,” Katz Shapiro said. “We’re trying to figure out what shape it’s going to take as we go on. Down the road it would be amazing if we could be a full-time program, but that’s not what we’re looking to be right this minute.”

Enrollment for the following school year will take place in March 2022.

©2021 Hartford Courant. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.