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At NDC, the experiences that deaf youth accumulate through school, work, and life are at the heart of the work we do. These experiences, some good and some bad, are one of the driving forces of how we think about ensuring #DeafSuccess while working to dismantle systemic barriers that have long existed for deaf youth.

This September, we want to spotlight learning and development. While some may think these important building blocks in the life of deaf youth are confined to the classroom setting, there are a number of factors throughout their life that help deaf youth excel.

To help explain these factors, Diego Guerra, our Community Engagement Specialist at NDC, has put together some recommendations and tips to consider while working to support of deaf youth throughout this school year.

Returning to school, either in person or virtual, can come with stress, heightened emotions, uncertainty and doubt. Yet there is also excitement and anticipation of meeting new friends or seeing people we haven’t seen in a long time! All these truths can exist at the same time.

Over the past 18 months, students have navigated similar circumstances as many adults - including a whole school year in a virtual learning environment. Some students may have a solid understanding of the impact the pandemic is having and have the ability to process those feelings, while other students may not. Those students may be dealing with circumstances of isolation, limited access to information, or the ability to process the emotions and/or trauma directly related to living in the midst of a pandemic. Then there are other students who are along for the ride. All of these experiences are perfectly fine!

With all of these diverse experiences in mind, we need to take pause and think about also supporting the well-being of students as they return to the classroom. This approach is focused on allowing every student to feel safe, engaged, aware, challenged, and supported. At NDC, we believe that this is one approach to advancing educational equity and ensuring that every deaf student has the chance to thrive.

When looking at this whole-student approach for deaf students, this goal of holistic preparation for the next chapter of their lives involves strengthening support systems, connecting them with community resources, and fostering self-determination skills.

This preparation starts with the student and can be actively supported by the work you do.

Strengthen Support Systems Through Dialog

Engaging in conversations with students about both school and well being is a great opportunity to build up their support systems. Having conversations about thoughts, feelings, and emotions related to returning to the school creates space to process what they are experiencing. These conversations become important learning opportunities for students.

Some students may benefit from learning about others’ experiences to help process their own. Other students can model examples of self-determination and/or self-advocacy that was used during their experiences.

Where possible, make space for students to lead these conversations. Those conversations could lead to great opportunities for youth development!

Connect Students to Community Resources When Appropriate

Students have different levels of comfort when it comes to having conversations about their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Flexibility is key. There might be students who are not feeling up to talking with others and we need to be understanding of that as well.

Consider opportunities to connect students to community resources, like a deaf mentor they trust or potentially more intensive support. Referring students to mental health counseling is also a strategy for strengthening their support system.

Leverage Motivation and Excitement for Learning

Yes, students spent the past 18 months learning online, but that doesn't mean they are not motivated by creative and engaging online learning in other forms. Deafverse is a great online game for deaf students to play and build up self-determination skills! If students feel overwhelmed with in-person interactions or strained from traditional learning structures, Deafverse is a great option for self-paced personal development. There are also opportunities to have discussions after playing Deafverse to talk about what they learned and how they can apply those skills in real life.

These are just a couple recommendations for fostering development using a whole-student framework, but there is a wide spectrum of opportunities, skills, and experiences to encourage in #DeafSuccess.

Most importantly, start with the student. Creating a space where everyone can be supported and ready to start the school year is important. It’s also alright not to know all the answers! It's Ok for you to feel unsure and doubtful. We all have had these thoughts and emotions at a point in our lives. Anticipate some struggles and barriers as everything is getting back on track, but some proactive planning can help both you and students as you face these struggles together.

Ultimately, we can remind each other what the pandemic has taught-- it’s ok to make changes and be flexible.

We wish you good luck with the new school year and are to support you every step of the way!