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Gallaudet’s Department of Education hosted its second National American Sign Language (ASL) and English Bilingual Early Childhood Education Summit on April 8 and 9, drawing more than 130 professionals from across the country. This year’s event carried the theme “Achievement: Starts Early,” and events focused on deaf and hard of hearing children from birth to age 8.

Co-hosts Dr. Laurene Simms and Dr. Amy Hile, faculty members in the Department of Education, set a multi-faceted agenda of presentations, workshops, discussion and brainstorming sessions, and an exhibition. They applied both feedback from the 2010 summit and emerging approaches to education to refine the event.

“Last year’s conference was a great success, with more than 100 participants,” said Simms. “We wanted to draw from their energy and thoughtful input to create an even better experience this year.” Past participants said that the early childhood window of birth to age 8 was simply too broad for one group, so this year, Simms and Hile divided attendees into three clusters focusing on ages 0 to 3, 3 to 5, and 5 to 8. Each group looked at assessment, early literacy, and pedagogy. A fourth theme, multiculturalism, played out both in discussions and in presentations like “Decolonizing Minds: Culturally Responsive Schooling,” with consultant and educational trainer Carla García-Fernández. The co-hosts also took a holistic approach to their invitations, welcoming not only educators but childcare providers, deaf mentors, medical personnel, speech-language specialists, and others.

“We sought out those actively working in the field of ASL/English bilingual education, which is a widening group in today’s educational landscape,” said Simms. “We were pleased to see so many different kinds of professionals roll up their sleeves here.”

The goals of the summit were also well-rounded. The organizers wanted to see hands-on demonstrations, sharing of the latest research on deaf education, and networking among the attendees. But they believe that their most significant achievement will come long after the final wrap-up meeting.

“We enjoyed bringing everyone here, and now we look forward to seeing what happens when participants return home with their new ideas,” said Hile. “This is when they apply their new knowledge and networks for the benefit of deaf and hard of hearing children around the country.”

–Rhea Yablon Kennedy

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