The San Diego County Office of Education's Davila Day School has shared a campus with Vista Square Elementary for almost a decade, but interaction between students didn't often go beyond recess, lunch, and the occasional special event.
That's changed over the past eight months as Davila Principal Heidi Lyon has forged a strong relationship with their host school and its principal, Marissa Allan.
The experience enhances the academic and social skills for Davila and Vista Square students in numerous ways.
"It broadens their world," Lyon explained. "For our students, they're able to interact with their hearing peers. For Vista Square Elementary, they're opening their eyes up to students who are different, but can do everything they can do."
Davila students are Deaf or hard of hearing. The special education school in Chula Vista serves children from preschool through 6th grade from southern and eastern portions of the county. Kids from both schools spend time together learning American Sign Language (ASL) or music, experiencing traditional lessons in regular classrooms, or joining in assemblies and field trips.
"It's for the betterment of the kids," Lyon said. "In opening up that collaboration, we're not an island. We're part of a larger campus that provides access and opportunities for students that they wouldn't have otherwise."
The access and opportunities include mainstreaming — placing Davila students for part of the school day into Vista Square classrooms with peers who do not have disabilities. Vista Square accommodates Davila students daily in preschool, transitional kindergarten, kindergarten, and 2nd and 5th grades. In addition, students are together for "collaboration" classes — including music, physical education, visual and performing arts, and ASL — about every other week.
"They're all getting another language," Lyon said. "When we think about the push for and value of bilingualism, we're adding the base of some bilingual skills. Even in the other grades without mainstreaming, more kids are catching on and learning to sign."
The students understand that connection, too.
"It makes me feel good that I know how to talk to them, and it's cool that they have more people to talk to," said Vista Square student Nayeli.
Joining Vista Square classmates also exposes Davila students to different ways of thinking and social cues that kids experience in a classroom of 30 rather than a classroom of seven.
Those experiences will go a long way toward helping the Davila students when they transition to middle school, where support for students who are Deaf and hard of hearing may change depending upon their new school.
Interest in ASL has soared thanks to the increase in interaction among Davila and Vista Square students. Davila has long offered ASL instruction to Vista Square students through an after-school club taught by Priscilla Couch, a Davila instructional aide. The club typically drew about 25 students. When fliers went out this school year, 65 kids showed up.
"All of a sudden, Vista Square kids are aware that we are over here, kids are aware of these kids on their campus," Lyon said. "And they wanted to learn."
There's no shortage of examples that show the real sense of community and partnership among the students and staff members. Davila's annual Thanksgiving feast drew more Vista Square teacher guests than ever before. Vista Square now includes Davila in its morning assemblies. And during a recent overnight camp, Vista Square 6th-graders communicated seamlessly in ASL with their Davila friends.
"Our kids didn't feel so isolated. They didn't always have to have an adult telling them what a hearing kid was saying," Lyon said. "They could actually be a kid."