Rochester School for the Deaf is one of the 4201 Schools in New York State. We offer high quality education and a rich social environment to approximately 135 Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing students ages 18 months through 12th grade. We serve 22 counties and over 35 school districts. RSD provides exemplary opportunities in a bilingual environment to meet students’ unique learning needs and all students receive direct instruction in American Sign Language. Approximately 25% of school-age students live in our residential program during the week. Together, as a community, RSD challenges and prepares students for participation in the ever-changing world by maintaining best practices in education, offering a variety of sports and extra-curricular activities, and cultivating a positive school culture that embraces diversity and values equality.
Prior to March 2020
Prior to March 2020, several classes were already using a variety of technology for instructional purposes. Some of the commonly used digital platforms included Google Classroom, Dojo, and GoReact. These were used for both student work production and communication with families. Our families have typically been involved by coming to our campus for activities such as Parent-Teacher Conferences, sports events and awards ceremonies. We hosted a successful Parent Night/ASL Festival for the first time in September 2019 that will likely become an annual tradition.
During March-June 2020
When school closed on March 13, 2020, RSD teachers immediately adopted various digital platforms to connect with students and stepped up to continue instruction. ASL videos were created to supplement lessons and to provide continued exposure to signing for our students and their families. We also sent several packages right away with books and supplies for students. Additional supplies were delivered to our elementary students by the teachers and teacher assistants in April.
Our students could receive meals through their home districts and we made sure families had this information when school closed. We delivered laptops to families who did not have access to technology and helped families acquire internet services through a community program. We also developed a Distance Learning schedule so as not to overwhelm students and families (and in response to families who expressed difficulties with handling online learning at home.) Our teachers focused on essential learning and created rubrics so students and families could receive meaningful feedback about their child’s participation and continued learning throughout Distance Learning.
How the School Rose to the Challenge
The staff recorded attendance and reached out to all students and their families when they had not participated in Distance Learning the previous week. We averaged 85-90% participation and the personal touch seemed to help most students stay engaged. Any concerns about students were relayed to the Mental Health Team who reached out to the individual students to offer support. We also posted pictures of zoom classes on our FaceBook page, and the superintendent gave frequent updates to the community through vlogs.
In order to maintain student engagement and keep our school spirit alive, the staff sent personal messages to students, created signed music videos for the students, and held Zoom lunches just to chat. The PE Department coordinated challenges, as well online tournaments and games. The traditional spring Award Ceremonies occurred online so families could enjoy them at a convenient time. Lawn signs and senior gifts were delivered to the Graduates’ homes, and a tribute was presented online in honor of their scheduled graduation date. A live ceremony is being planned for August. Many of our staff came to campus after school had ended and provided curb-side service in returning students’ belongings, which offered a wonderful way to see students and families again!
Where the School is Now
At this time, it is uncertain what school will look like in the fall. As a school community, we have learned that personal connections and essential learning make all the difference! We will follow the health and safety regulations provided by the department of public health in our county, and we will continue to provide the best educational experience we can. We have learned that access to technology is key, and if Distance Learning continues, we will ensure that all students and staff can use digital mediums with ease. Some of our younger students will also require additional instruction in how to use technology, to ensure they have access to quality education, as well.
At RSD, we will continue to focus on essential learning when instructing all of our students. We have realized that providing immediate feedback to students helps to increase their engagement and results in them taking ownership of their learning. By using a rubric system to evaluate their participation and submission of projects and responses online, teachers and students developed new working relationships that centered around individual growth. We will also ensure access to technology for all students and staff, and take time to prepare for those who do not have availability at home. RSD will continue reaching out to families and establishing personal connections on a more frequent basis. Our priority will be to adhere to all safety and health regulations for the sake of every student , family, and staff member, while also continuing our tradition of high quality education, regardless of the format and delivery!
Superintendent: Antony A. L. McLetchie