Blog: Amplify

Energetic middle school students + determined school administrators + Derby Community Foundation Grant = Pure Magic!

This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.

See where it all began at our
Fall Conference for Community Foundations in Cleveland this October!

Tim moved to the Derby School District toward the end of his sixth-grade year. He was withdrawn and spent most lunch hours alone in the cafeteria. Fellow students made attempts at befriending Tim, but soon found that he could not communicate with them — Tim was deaf and used sign language to communicate.

When the fall of his seventh-grade year began, Tim sat alone again during lunch hour. Two weeks into the semester, a group of students approached Derby Middle School principal Mr. Brown and Special Education teacher Mr. Smith to request help with learning to communicate with Tim. The two men researched the requirements for creating an American Sign Language course at the school and found that implementing such a course was doable, but no funds existed for the training or materials.

Earlier the same year, the Derby Community Foundation had initiated the Community Enrichment Grant Program to offer grants of up to $1,000 to local charities and government entities to enhance the community. Through the school district’s staff newsletter, Mr. Smith and Brown learned of the grant program and decided to apply.

An $800 grant was awarded to Derby Middle School in December of Tim’s seventh-grade year to implement an American Sign Language course. Twenty-four students enrolled in the initial class. The following fall, a second session of the class had to be added to accommodate the 32 students who enrolled.

I visited the class she was introduced to Tim as the person who helped find the funds to start the Sign Language course. A big smile spread across Tim’s face as he told Ms. Hearn (in Sign Language) “thank you for giving me friends.”

The next school year, when Tim and his new friends started as freshmen at Derby High School, they again went to their principal and requested additional training in Sign Language. As a result of this effort, Derby High School adopted a 2-year course of study in American Sign Language. Additionally, Derby High School joined a group of Kansas high schools in lobbying the Kansas Board of Regents to adopt American Sign Language to fulfill the requirement of 2-years foreign language study as part of the KS Regent’s College Prep Curriculum.

Tim became a leader at Derby High School, participating in many school activities. He graduated with honors and is now attending Gallaudet University in Washington, DC (the country’s premiere college for the deaf).

There are currently 200 students enrolled in the 2-year American Sign Language program at Derby High School.

That’s what can happen when you combine a group of energetic teenagers with several compassionate educators and an $800 grant from a local community foundation.

Theresa Hearn is Executive Director of Derby Community Foundation.

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