By Jesús Aguado
There is a place on Umarán Street where the talents of special young people are fostered. These are students with hearing loss who are unable to attend regular schools.
At the Escuela de Educación Especial (Special Education School), these students are taught academic courses in sign language. The teachers are kind and patient volunteers from the US, Canada, and Europe whose passion is to make these young people’s lives better through education.
John Doherty’s retirement changed when he arrived in San Miguel de Allende. Over the course of 20 years, he spent winters in Mexico, until he finally decided to retire here. He is a member of the Rotary Midday Club, and through this organization, he got involved with the deaf community after participating in various of their fundraising events.
“There was no school, no funding, no curriculum. It was a daycare where parents could leave their children so they could go to work. There was no education taking place, so we founded the Special Education School AC in 2011, and we opened it in August 2012. Within one year, we raised money, we painted, we repaired the lighting, flooring, and bathrooms,” Doherty told Atención.
The school follows the guidelines of the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Office of Public Education) and of the Instituto Nacional para la Educación de los Adultos (National Institute for the Education of Adults), known as INEA. In 2019, three of the students completed their high school studies online with the support of the school. They were the first deaf students in the state of Guanajuato to finish high school.
“We teach from kindergarten through high school,” Doherty added. According to Doherty, some of the students are academically 10 years behind their peers because they’ve spent school years at home doing nothing or at school with coloring books because the teachers could not help them.
The school was founded to help disabled children; however, it is now focused on helping Deaf children. Diego, one of the children, is both Deaf and Blind, and they are teaching him sign language through touch.
Teaching with Patience
Currently, the school is working with 25 children and young people who come mainly from the communities surrounding San Miguel and from Dolores and Celaya. Some attend three days a week, and others come every day.
“The only difference is that they cannot hear. But they can read and write, so they can develop skills to make an income,” added Doherty. That is why three years ago the team decided to include workshops as part of the training program. There are now workshops in woodworking, cooking, baking, sewing, carpentry, jewelry making, and art.
During our visit, we met José Luis, who is 27 years old. “When José Luis came, we asked what his talents were, and he said, ‘I have no talent. I have no education. I don’t know sign language.’ And now he is making jewelry,” said Doherty.
Máximo and Jesús are two of the students who work in carpentry. They are taught by two volunteer teachers: Jennifer Young-Hall and Steven Cohen. Young-Hall arrived in San Miguel three months ago, but she had worked in a school for the Deaf in Guatemala. Her passion is to make chairs for children and donate them to libraries. She wants to create connections between schools and libraries. She designed one particular chair inspired by the children’s book Curious George which she later donated to the San Miguel Biblioteca. The chair has a side pocket so that a child can sit down, reach into the pocket, and find a book. She hopes this will motivate the children to read, noting, “Libraries ought to be colorful and enjoyable and stimulate reading.” Jennifer is very thankful to all the youngsters from carpentry and painting classes who worked on the project and made it possible. The chair is in the sala infantil(children’s room) of the Biblioteca.
Steven Cohen came to San Miguel seven years ago, and he teaches carpentry in the school, instructing the students on how to use the machines in the shop. The young people he trains are dedicated to the craft and prepared to work in a carpentry shop. The question is, however, are carpenters ready to hire them? One of these students, for instance, worked in a carpentry shop, but because his employers were not familiar with sign language, they relegated him to simple tasks without giving him the chance to demonstrate his talents.
On the other hand, a local business called The Puzzle Shop has employed two of the students from the school. The difference is that the owner is familiar with sign language and even took one of the students to Africa.
Dreams of Cloth
Laura is one of the students who completed her high school studies at the Escuela de Educación Especial. Her dream is to be a fashion designer, but she has not been able to find a university she can access. However, this has not stopped her, and she is taking sewing classes and learning how to make dresses.
Juanita is also learning to sew. She wants to become a seamstress. Her dream is what she shows us pasted on a wall—an image of a blue dress. She wants to sew dresses for quinceañeras.
Fernanda is another of the students, and she works with Juanita and Laura as a team. Together they make dresses out of fabric they have painted by hand. It’s something they learned here in the center.
Fernanda also works on collages and has made dozens of them. She has exhibited her collages, and they were well received by the public. At present, she is working with Cathy Taylor, an artist from North Carolina.
Fernanda had studied carpentry, jewelry making, cooking, and other arts before she found her gift—collage. Since then, she has been guided by Taylor, who enjoys being a volunteer and says she has learned more from the students than she had ever imagined.
If you wish to know more about the school, including seeing the work of the students, you can visit them at Umarán 107. Their showroom is open Friday from 11am to 2pm. Some of the work is for sale, and donations are accepted.
You may also visit them online at: eeesma.com.