The Deaf community has always dreamed of a place, a country of our own where everyone signed. One language. Where all are equal. Well, it happened long ago at Martha’s Vineyard. If my arm here represents Cape Cod, and my chest, Massachusetts, then Martha’s Vineyard island is here. Chilmark is located at the end of this island. It’s pretty isolated. People stayed because they couldn’t afford to cross over to Massachusetts and Rhode Island. High percentages of deaf babies were born. It was almost like a Utopia. There were no language barriers on the island. Their language was MVSL (Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language.) Everyone signed. It was the norm. One interesting thing about the island is if you travel from France to New York, Gallaudet and Clerc, they must have passed the island. Were they aware of its existence? I doubt it. They lived on the island for years until ASD was established. The parents of deaf children had heard about the school in Hartford. So they moved. Then the community in America grew and expanded. The deaf people on Martha’s Vineyard dwindled until there were no more. I often like to say it all began with one young girl. Each community has its origins, a story about how that community came to be. Long ago, there was a deaf girl. She sat without language, or anything alike it. She was deaf, and there were no schools for her. No one could communicate with her. Thomas Gallaudet happened by and saw her. A girl playing in the sand. After some interaction, he saw that she was deaf. He decided he wanted to teach her something. He found a stick and stuck it in the ground, and placed his hat atop it. That old-fashioned hat. He pointed at it and wrote the word HAT in the dirt. She understood. It was then he realized she could learn anything. So, he decided to talk among people and wanted to set up a deaf school for her education. He had heard of a few Deaf schools in Europe. So, off Gallaudet went. He flew – sailed. Flew – sailed. To…France? Yeah, France. He searched and found a man named Clerc. His sign name is (because of a scar on his cheek.) Because he fell and hit his face on a stove. Thus, Clerc. Clerc was lecturing with Sicard in sign language Gallaudet said, “Yes! That’s what I’m looking for!” Gallaudet asked him to come to America to set up a school. He agreed to, and they set sail. Both of them sailed. Imagine this passage here coming from Europe. Did they both sit idly? No. They both learned and taught one another. They arrived and met with the Cogswell family. They obviously met Alice, too. I’m sure that to Clerc, Alice was another Deaf student to teach. They established ASD. American School for the Deaf. In 1817… On April 15th… I think. That really opened the gates and gave all deaf children opportunities to learn and to grow. I’ve always thought New England to be small. When you open up a map, you’ll see only six states. But when I moved here, I realized that it’s big. Yet, the states are nearby. When you play sports for Deaf schools, you’re guaranteed to have half of your games against other Deaf institutes. You see the fans start to arrive, and you feel a nervous excitement. You see the other teams with their small fanbase, while mine is big and they’re rooting. In true New England weather, it’s raining hard. We’re scrimmaging. People are thinking, “Vermont? It’s impossible they’ll win against Rhode Island. The team’s phenomenal.” Rhode Island was always good. They’d beat us again and again. People ridiculed Rhode Island because we were small. “What? They have a Deaf institute there?” Yes, we’re small, but we think big with beautiful hearts. This silenced them. They were on a winning streak for six or seven years, so, we Austine people really wanted to win. Everyone thought we’d go down, but we actually won. 1-0 at the very last minute! I fell to my knees and cried. “We won!” You know when you’re 13 or 14 years old, you’re already on that emotional, hormonal rollercoaster. “We won, yeah!” That overall experience of growing up was very positive. People say, “Poor you for staying at the institute.” No, it was the opposite. It was the best! The prevalence of institutes occurred during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was by the 1980’s when we started seeing steady decline. In 1975, an Act was created which has evolved to what is called IDEA today. It was a law that pushed for students to be mainstreamed. Many people in general had the impression that the quality of Deaf education in Deaf schools were lacking. And that the mainstreamed programs at public schools had better education. They grouped all the disabled together at public schools, including the Deaf. I can understand the intention, but, where was their language? Where do they have their emotional needs met and their leadership skills developed? Where? We, the older people have been fighting and fighting all the time, for the future of Deaf children because they need it. What really hurt the Austine institute were the mainstreamed programs. Now that the school’s closed down, things have really changed. Vermont is so far north, that the institute was what kept the community together. Now that it’s gone, there are no job opportunities. Where do the students go? The community’s dispersed. It impacted my family hard. My family traces its roots back to Austine, where my father first learned sign language. The campus was beautiful. I’ll always have memories there. But now that it’s gone, it’s very sad. Now, when I visit Austine, I think, “Where are all the kids?” What caused the Deaf schools to dwindle in New England? You’d have to look at our history and see what’s impacted us over the years. Mainstreamed program expansions. Lack of student enrollment. Oppression. It started during the 1960’s all the way to 1982, which stopped abruptly. What, exactly? The abuse and sexual molestations, which was done mostly by the staff. The kids tried to tell people, just to cry for, “help, help.” But they only listened to other hearing people. The people who were involved held power over the school. They had simply resigned and escaped without being charged. And no jail time. Nothing. But, what was done those kids… I feel… bad. It’s sad. But, the reality is that it happened. I want the world to know that it really happened, and why we’ve been struggling to have our lives back on track. Now, if you look at Governor Baxter School, it’s almost gone. When I look at a lighthouse, I see its significance. It’s easy for us to fall astray, and allow our language to be taken away. Get into heated discussions on what is the best for Deaf education. With so many negative things in our view, we can crash against the rocks. Look to the lighthouse… We need leaderships from each of the six states. Six of us, just to come together and figure out how to support New England. Yes, the school should stay open forever no matter what. That kind of gathering can impact the Deaf community powerfully. The community is created by job opportunities, organizations, and businesses. They’re all a crucial part of the community. Now the question is, what can schools and organizations do for the community together? I thought one day, “Why not establish Timberfest?” So that the Deaf can learn, play, and have a taste of lumber work. Deaf Sailing Adventures. Feel the motions and become one with water. We are gathered for ASL Cider Fest. Many hearing students here are learning ASL. This is the Deaf Interpreters Coalition. There are over 28 Deaf Interpreters at work. This is Deaf Culture Festival in Maine. We’ve got booths and activities for children. I started my business here and my sales have been successful. We’re here from all over New England for the tournament. Expression, sign language, and art all in one. It’s very small and one of the best kept secrets here in New England. We also have strong research from U-Conn, Boston University, and other colleges and universities in the New England area that provides sound support for language accessibility, language acquisition, bilingual education, and more. These students are learning about the Deaf world and to see what it looks like. They are all hearing. Also, I currently teach a course at Harvard. It’s a brand new course. When I entered the room for the first time… It was absolutely packed. Full of students mingling. I had over a hundred students, plus more lined outside… and I could only pick 15? I see something special going on here. A fire catching in the bilingual field. I see some schools hungry for it and they’re contacting Boston University. Boston University established the first Deaf studies program and the first Deaf education bilingual philosophy training. Both languages are used. ASL for visual instruction, and English for written instruction. Other Deaf schools were skeptical at first, but it caught and spread throughout. Who was also the most influential in this? Marie Philip. Marie Philip had a vision of strict adherence to bilingualism. She determined on what to start with. Her thinking was to start with culture and language first. Before even going into the English and ASL aspect, culture and language first. So, she set up workshops. She taught “What is Deaf Culture?” She taught “What is bi-bi?” “What is ASL?” It gained traction in the community! Remember, when the notion of ASL to be considered a real language, people laughed at that. She was really willing to put herself forward to show that ASL has an place in education. What Marie truly loved to do was sharing stories to Deaf children. She loved children. She’d sit cross-legged in front of them. I remember her opening books, to read the stories in big, beautiful ASL. Sitting down, I always felt overwhelmed and yet, enthralled. I would sometimes get up and walk right in front of her face and stare. She instilled a memory within me that I’ll cherish forever. When she died, I knew immediately that something big had happened to the Deaf community. She was more than a role model. She was inspiring. Her passing shook the Deaf community profoundly. But we were determined to carry down her belief and her philosophy. We followed it. We committed to it. Last year, they renamed a school after her. She earned it. MPS is established upon a non-traditional approach to education, and it works. We are a place where if we dream it, we can make it happen. Because it’s a great place to learn. Clerc started ASL in this fine institute. It started here. Let’s do it again. We can become passionate about the future. We address the whole child, not just their ears. Once you understand their needs, they will fly. We’re all in this together like as a big family. Because that is what Community is about. This community is slowly recovering and re-establishing relationships. Pre-school has a total of 27 students. We’re expanding with more counting. My son is in one of the classes. So, it’s bigger now. I feel like it’ll keep growing in the future. With support and encouragement, there is hope. I do believe it. We can re-grow our elementary school, our middle school, and our high school. I predict that it will. We have been assailed throughout our history and we have seen our schools close down, but, we’re still here. We have the opportunity to change the world through our actions. It starts with me. It starts with you.