SINGAPORE: Every canteen stall at Mayflower Primary School has icons and photos to indicate the food and drinks available and most of the vendors know some simple sign language.
The school has been making adjustments to its teaching and even canteen operations to cater for six Primary One pupils with hearing loss who joined this year. It is the first designated primary school for such students, and the entire school community spent the past few months preparing for their arrival.
"We did some simple, small charts, so they know that this is a chicken bun or pizza,” said Ms Wendy Yap, a vendor selling snacks and tidbits.
The photos are meant as visual cue cards for the students with hearing loss, so they can order their food by pointing - although some vendors said they encountered teething issues on the first few days of school.
“When they bought one item, it was okay. But once they took a bun and a drink and added up the amount, we had difficulties. We gave feedback to the school, which came up with a chart showing various amounts in dollars and cents, where we can point to let them know how much their food costs,” said Ms Yap.
The hearing-impaired students have also been assigned two buddies each from upper primary to look after them during recess.
All the six deaf pupils are in the same class, studying and learning alongside their peers. It is only during mother tongue lessons that they go to a separate classroom to learn sign language.
Besides that, they attend all other lessons, such as English, mathematics, physical education, social studies, drama, arts and craft and even music classes.
Mayflower Primary said some of the children have residual hearing, and although they are unable to hear clearly, they are still able to learn tempo and rhythm as they can feel the beat of the music. While the rest sing along to the songs, the six sign the lyrics.
For all lessons, the mainstream teacher wears a microphone that transmits and amplifies sound into the pupils’ hearing devices, while a specialised teacher, who is present at every lesson, also teaches and signs along.
"Like any new programme, it takes time for everyone to adapt to a new way of doing things. At the start, the pupils with hearing loss had to be reminded not to look at me when I was teaching, but to look at the teacher who was doing the signing during the lesson instead," said English teacher Elaine Lim.
“Students and teachers in this class have also started using sign language to greet each other. Even though most of them have not learnt a lot of sign language, they use their own gestures to communicate with one another,” said Ms Lim.
Madam Siti Nuraisyah Mohamed Murat, a parent of one of the deaf students, said she was the one with the jitters on the first day of school and not her daughter.
“She kept on signing to me that she wanted to see her old friends and teachers ... This will benefit her as she will have more confidence in herself with the hearing students surrounding her," said Mdm Siti.
"She’s been adapting well in school. Every time she comes back, she will surely have a lot of stories to tell me."
Mdm Siti’s daughter, Nurfasha Elaisyah Muhammad Khairul, who communicated via an interpreter, said she hopes more of her classmates can learn the sign language, so she can play with them.
Mayflower Primary will be offering sign language enrichment classes for those keen to learn after school. So far, 30 teachers have already signed up, and students from all levels have also indicated interest, the school said.