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Marinna's Story

My daughter was born with severe hearing loss. We live in a semi-rural area where there is no deaf community and minimal services for deaf/hard of hearing children and adults. We knew it might take years to find an interpreter willing to move up here, so we had her CESA agency start looking for one while she was still an infant. No one suggested or even mentioned WSD as an educational placement option once she was old enough to enter public school. While she was given some ASL instruction while in Head Start, no one recommended she be taught ASL on a regular, formal basis. I tried for years to figure out how to get help with learning ASL myself with little success. The logistical and financial issues involved were too much for the county and other agencies to deal with successfully. When your child is the only deaf child in the area, when you have to go almost 2 hours one way to find other families with deaf children, you feel isolated. Just how isolated we were became quite clear to me the first time we attended the Statewide Family Conference for Deaf / Hard of Hearing. We were the only family from the CESA 12 area. In fact, every year we have attended we have been the sole participating family from a CESA that spans several counties. That is the reality of being deaf in a rural area.

I first encountered WSD at the Family Conference. I was incredibly impressed with their programs and what they could offer my daughter. For a variety of reasons, she was not doing well academically in public school. Despite having an interpreter since she started Head Start, she was having great difficulty learning spoken English, written English and ASL. I often thought about WSD, but one thing held me back – the fear that transportation logistics would make it impossible for her to attend.

You see, our family lives on the south shore of Lake Superior in the far northwestern corner of the state. We are approximately 350 miles away from WSD. I feared that she would wind up spending months at a time away from us if she attended WSD. I wasn't sure either of us would be able to handle that. The thought of some one else essentially raising my child was not a pleasant one.

Then a miracle of serendipity happened. A random online group conversation in Second Life caught the attention of Alex Slappey, who at that time was the Superintendent for WSD. After realizing that I lived in Wisconsin and had a hearing impaired child, he asked if I had heard about WSD. I said I had, but was concerned that I wouldn't be able to see my child for months. He replied by explaining that kids like my daughter were flown back and forth every weekend in small planes at no cost to the parents.

I was shocked and amazed. It had never occurred to me that flying was even an option. It was at that moment that I decided to send my daughter to WSD.

I started the process within a few weeks of that online conversation. I saw the formal request to her local school to change her placement as just that, a formality that would be easily understood and granted. I had always enjoyed a good working relationship with our local school and knew that they truly cared about my daughter and were doing everything they could to educate her. I was very surprised when they denied my request. WSD staff helped me every step of the way as I stood my ground and fought the denial. During a marathon IEP meeting that lasted over 3 hours, I passionately explained why WSD was absolutely the best placement for my daughter while WSD staff provided accurate information to the IEP team about WSD and dispelled many misconceptions about educating deaf/hard of hearing students. A flurry of emails and phone calls followed that meeting until finally the local school's Special Education director called to tell me I'd won, that they would give their approval. I could not have remained calm and strong for my daughter without the assistance and support of WSD.

My daughter started at WSD in September, 2014 at the start of her 6th grade year and will soon complete her second full year at WSD this June. I don't even know where to begin when describing all the positive impacts WSD has had on her in that short period of time. If I tried to talk about them in detail, this testimonial would be far too long... so I'll list them.



Before WSD, my daughter had no interest in school sports or after-school activities. The social and communication barriers were just too high and her school was ill-equipped to help her overcome them. At WSD, she has participated in volleyball, basketball and track. She has experienced the joys and rewards of team sport participation and made new friends.



Before WSD, my daughter had great difficulty communicating with just about everyone. The lack of regular, formal instruction in ASL left her unprepared to learn spoken and written English. Her spoken English was not mature enough to communication properly with both hearing peers and adults, while her ASL proficiency was similarly low among her deaf/hard of hearing peers. She rarely encountered adults who sign and was uncharacteristically shy around them. Because she could speak, adults would often mistakenly assume she was intellectually challenged when the sophistication of her speech didn't match her chronological age. At WSD, her ability to use ASL has, to put it simply, exploded. The joy I see in her face as she signs to a friend is priceless to me. Her confidence even extends lamenting with teenage sarcasm about how horrible I am at ASL, complete with eye rolls. She is finally able to communicate!



My daughter has steadily improved her academic ability since she started attended WSD. In fact, she has made the honor roll every quarter so far this school year. Every day, her teachers meet her at her level, using whatever combination of communication methods are required to engage her in the learning process. They are dedicated to ensuring that my daughter – and all of their students – receive the best education possible.


Emotional / Social Support

WSD has been essential in the process of successfully supporting my daughter emotionally while she deals with a family crisis that began shortly after she started at WSD. They were absolutely key to identifying the crisis and have continued to provide support to both my daughter and myself. The level of commitment WSD has to its students is incredible and should be held up as a prime example of what all students deserve to receive from their schools.


Dorm Life

The dorm staff has also far exceeded my expectations... which I must admit were quite high. These hardworking people basically serve as substitute parents 5 days of each week. They are the ones comforting her when she has a nightmare, correcting her when she misbehaves, and ensuring she does her homework and keeps her room tidy. They keep her safe – physically, emotionally and mentally - just as I would. Its a hugely important task that they do every day with grace, humor, understanding and respect.

It is hard to overstate just how amazing WSD is. For many of their students, WSD is “home” for most of the year. The staff is fully aware that parents are entrusting them with something priceless – their child. They are asked to help raise a child academically, physically, emotionally, mentally and socially; while at the same time ensuring that the bond between that child and their parents is respected and supported. For over 150 years, WSD has willingly and enthusiastically taken on that responsibility – and excelled at it. May they continue to do so for as long as children and families need them.