California School for the Deaf: The rising stars of deaf American football

Image copyright Jill Powers Image caption The California School for the Deaf’s tight-knit community comes together to cheer on their team

Some of the top facilities in America’s deaf community are in close proximity to California’s biggest city. The California School for the Deaf’s facilities are in the affluent Silicon Valley, just a few miles away from Google, Apple and Facebook.

Yet a series of tragic events have cast an unflattering spotlight on this unique school. In 2004, lightning struck one of its courtyards, killing nine students. Four years later, four students went missing from a swimming pool. The students were never found.

Yet somehow, despite being located in a pretty affluent region, the school manages to maintain a reputation for excellence.

No one will dispute that the school is good at what it does. With a record number of places on this year’s “Best Deaf Colleges” list , it’s already among the best liberal arts colleges in the US.

In spite of that, the perceived “disadvantage” of its location comes through loud and clear in the form of stereotypical stereotypes.

The campus is picturesque, with imposing walls and tall pillars. Dormitories are big and bright. The school itself provides opportunities for deaf students to go out in the community and be active.

Students experience the full gamut of activities, from being participants in basketball games to teaching deaf, and other kids, how to play instruments.

Last year, 49 of the school’s top students were certified as paramedics by the American Ambulance Association.

Their deafness was an advantage – they could communicate with the people in situations that would overwhelm non-deaf students.

Out in the community, the students are asked to identify threats, problems and complaints they see – and teach deaf friends how to appropriately approach those situations.

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As a result, the student leadership has become more vocal and unafraid to share its view about Sacramento, where much of the state legislature is located.

When one senator made comments that were seen as too dismissive of the deaf community, the students reacted with anger. When the school got a visit from the FBI, students made signs of guns as a way of protesting.

The skills they’ve learned and the experiences they’ve had serve them well at Stanford University, where they did quite well as undergrads.

The young men were also able to make their way through the world. Nearly half of them ended up in the political science field.

For some of the students, the programs at the school worked as a springboard into further academic pursuits and ultimately into professions that the deaf community have traditionally struggled to break into.

“By studying in a deaf community, it’s one of the best things for your sense of social competence and communication,” explains Colin Fiorentino, a Cal interdisciplinary research associate and senior from the 2015-2016 year.

Image copyright Richard Turner Image caption Cal students Colin Fiorentino and Mark Stanley received degrees from Stanford in 2017

The school’s success is evident in the national rankings, but for me, the overriding message is that deafness can be more than just a weakness.

“California School for the Deaf really sets out to find ways to build a deaf community,” says Richard Turner, a Stanford alumnus and current staff member.

“For years, there have been talks about the problem that the deaf and hard of hearing community have had with schools, but the school has done an amazing job.”

Any student that knocks the school is an outstanding one. These students and the rest of the Cal community are remarkable. — Paul Sadler (@PaulSadler) May 4, 2018

There’s no doubt that Cal offers a great education in a challenging community.

However, I also came away with the impression that it’s not just the hard of hearing students – or students who came from community-based middle and high schools – that make Cal such a success story.

When one staff member asked me why deaf students could do so well in the school, I found myself thinking of Mark Stanley.

It’s a truly inspirational school.

I’ll be back to bring you an update on the final players of the Cal Spartans Club as they reflect on the challenges of the deaf football season.

Read the blog in full.

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