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We Are DEAFinitely Readers!

Kareem LaTouche, Youthlink Coordinator

WE ARE DEAFinitely Readers! is a new reading competition designed to inspire deaf children to become voracious readers and to boost their literacy standards within the deaf schools. It is implemented by the Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD), under the Partnership for Literacy Enhancement for the Deaf (PLED) Project, which is sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The inaugural staging was held on November 29, 2018, in the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre at The University of the West Indies. Specially invited guests in attendance included Alando Terrelonge, state minister in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, and Dr Valerie Facey and Carol Christian, JAD board members. The keynote speaker was Robin Levy, a member of the Kingston East and Port Royal Rotary Club. The master of ceremonies was Jordon Bent.

The project manager, Tisha Ewen-Smith, is passionate about wanting all the children to develop a real love of books and reading for pleasure, and believes the competition gave a competitive spur to reluctant readers who had missed out on the vast world of literature and will ultimately enhance their literacy skills.

The competition was open to participants in deaf schools at the secondary level, who vied for top prizes, including the Most Outstanding Reader and Vocabulary Genius. Participating schools included Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf (CCCD) Kingston campus, May Pen Unit (MPU) for the Deaf, Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf Knockpatrick campus, and Lister Mair/Gilby (LMG) High School for the Deaf. There were a total of 11 students participating in the competition.

The purpose of the reading competition is to:
• encourage reading engagement.
• provide incentives to increase reading volume and comprehension among deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
• promote a spirit of academic competition and good sportsmanship.
• encourage critical thinking skills among deaf students.

There were four age categories:
12- to 13-year-olds, focusing on A Goatboy Never Cries by Hazel D. Campbell; ages 14-15 who read Project Climate Save by Petre Williams-Raynor. The 16- to 17- year-olds used Anancy’s African Adventure by Beulah Richmond. Those from age 18 to 20 used Jenny and the General by Jean D’Costa.

First, second and third place, were awarded in each age group category. For ages 12-13, first place went to Azaliah Walker from LMG and second went to Trishan Campbell from CCCD Kingston. For the 14-15 age group, Sherda-Anna Brown from MPU placed first and Kalea Williams from LMG placed second. In the 16- 17 age group, Damion Stewart from CCCD Knockpatrick placed first, Abigail Swaby from LMG placed second, and Tashana Papley from MPU placed third. In the 18-20 age group, Shanel Bowlyn from CCCD Knockpatrick placed first and Shaniel Brown from LMG and Anecia Allen from MPU tied for second place.

Students went back to their various schools beaming with pride, ready to show off their medals, trophies and badges that they had been awarded. Several observers and teachers also commented that it was an enjoyable day and they are looking forward to the next staging of the competition.

To ensure that deaf students receive the quality education they deserve, their learning needs have to be fully taken into consideration. With this understanding, JAD, under the PLED Project, is working to create a new generation of deaf students with excellent literacy skills. A primary factor that has been considered is their language development by way of a bilingual approach to their education, which uses both Jamaican sign language and written English to enhance their linguistic skills. The ultimate goal is to have every deaf child leave school with a lifelong love of reading and the necessary literacy skills to succeed in life.

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