CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Laramie County School District 1 Teacher of the Deaf Kristine Frey wants to be sure the district’s deaf and hard of hearing community is listened to.
For years, Frey has worked with the district and been an advocate for deaf awareness, trying to help clear the hurdles that exist toward the state’s community getting needed services. So when an opportunity came about through which she and a few deaf and hard of hearing schoolchildren where able to meet the governor last week, a chance to break another barrier opened.
Gov. Mark Gordon and a group of Frey’s students met each other last Wednesday at the Wyoming State Capitol as part of Deaf History Month, with Gordon posing for photos and doing some basic sign language with the kids to indicate that he was listening.
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Frey appreciated the governor’s time and effort to make the children, which she remarked were “really nervous” entering the Capitol, comfortable and acknowledged. And as she works with the state to attempt to establish new programs for the people she helps, Frey hopes that the meeting made a lasting impact.
“We’re trying to develop a Commission for the Deaf in Wyoming, and so we’ve had a couple of meetings with him and his staff,” Frey said. “I approached the team about having our deaf kids come in to help celebrate Deaf History Month and have them study a little bit about the history of deafness and how they’ve been treated over the last 200 years in the United States.”
“[Gov. Gordon] interacted so well with the kids; [he] tried to sign with them. We actually had him and the kids signing ‘Wyoming,’ and they left with a really good impression of our governor. It’s just a good thing.”
Unlike most states, Wyoming does not currently have a devoted school for the deaf, though it did in the past. The former Wyoming School for the Deaf in Casper acted as a standalone campus to assist deaf schoolchildren in the state for decades until the facility closed in 2000.
For families of deaf students who have opted to stay in Wyoming since, individuals like Frey have been around to help make school life a bit easier. Frey said that there are over 50 kids in LCSD 1 that use services meant to help the deaf or hard of hearing, with the teacher stating that there’s often a misconception of just how widespread the area’s deaf community is.
“I think the biggest thing is that the people of Cheyenne maybe need to know how big of a deaf community we have,” Frey said. “And then the [deaf] adults in Cheyenne work in all of our businesses and have retired. … We want to make sure that the kids have a belief that they can do anything they want to do. That’s the bottom line of our process here.”
Parent Narissa Kennedy — whose son, Carter, is a deaf seventh-grader at Carey Junior High — got to see her child be one of the district’s representatives to meet Gov. Gordon face to face.
As someone who has seen her son struggle with adapting to his disability throughout his upbringing, Narissa was glad to see Gordon be open to the meeting — and proud of Carter for being there, too — while also expressing thankfulness toward the district for continuing to help her child.
“We’ve gotten a lot of support for myself as a parent of a child that’s deaf, and from the school district and obviously from the state,” Narissa said. “It was a great opportunity to celebrate those moments. … [Carter’s] speech and language skills are something we’ve really had to hone most of his life, and we’ve gotten a lot of support from the school district. Carter was really proud of himself to be able to speak in front of the governor and meet him firsthand.”
Awareness events like last week’s are important to the local deaf community’s health and betterment, Frey said, especially when she believes there’s more left to accomplish for the group across the state.
After all, she says, neither she nor the district can do it all alone.
“I think every time we make somebody aware of what we’re not able to accomplish alone, becoming a team and making that work and making the chance to work together is productive,” Frey remarked. “Much more productive.”