Deaf distance learning challenges being helped by program from University of St. Thomas

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The University of St. Thomas is helping students who are deaf, hard of hearing or speak English as a second language with distance learning.

The goal is to make sure distance learning doesn’t get in the way of an excellent education. Students at St. Thomas launched an eight-week virtual summer camp aimed at promoting science, technology, engineering and math to students who may be deaf, hard of hearing or have English as a second language.

The program is called “The Playground.”

“The material is very hands-on, and they actually get to work with it,” said Emma Monson, a University of St. Thomas junior. “I was just super passionate about (this) because I had taken American Sign Language in school and I love kids.”

They deliver the learning kits every week to elementary and middle school students around the Twin Cities. It’s a hands-on, at-home camp for students for whom a typical Zoom call would not work as well.

“This summer, we have over 80 kids who are in our deaf and hard of hearing cohort who are getting boxes each week. Later this week, we are going to start delivering boxes to some of our cities’ shelter and temporary shelter housing,” said Ann Marie Thomas, a University of St. Thomas professor and Playground program director.

There are also customized instruction videos in American Sign Language, Arabic, Spanish and English.

“Putting the videos together is a lot of work,” said Sara Thibault, a University of St. Thomas senior. “Driving me to do this every day is just my passion for bringing these resources to students who may not have these available to them this summer.”

The kids show off their projects during weekly online meets where interpreters also join.

“Even when we are out delivering the boxes, you see students looking out the window, the parents might even be joining them, and they’ll be waving and as soon as you drive off,” said Thibault.

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