Barb McGrath 0:02
Today’s guest is a passionate teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing here, Regina. When one of her twin sons was born deaf, she began times in American Sign Language. She fell in love with the language and with the community and has become an invaluable advocate and mentor for scatch wins Deaf community. She’s also an administrative team member and former vice president of the Deaf crows collective, a deaf theatre troupe. So she’s involved with the development and execution of performances and art installations that connect with a deaf and hard of hearing world. So she’s going to talk about some of that today. And I’d like to kick off by just welcoming welcoming you, Michelle, thank you for being here today.
Michelle Grodecki 0:46
Thanks for having me.
Barb McGrath 0:48
So give us a little bit of background because when I first read your bio, I had never heard of the Deaf crows. So tell me about this. It sounds very interesting.
Michelle Grodecki 0:57
Yeah. So the decorous collective was formed out of at the time as a high school program at Tom collegiate. And it was a group of six high school kids who wanted to do a play sharing their death experiences. And so my son and I came on as performers in the show. And from that, there was two sold out shows which would have been four years ago, this June, and after the sold out shows in in Regina, and then we traveled to cat to Edmonton and did a couple of shows there. And we said, you know, like def theater doesn’t exist here in Saskatchewan, there needs to be more accessibility, and a better platform to kind of share the the situation that takes place within the deaf community. And, and so Deaf crows was born. So it started off with Joanne Weber and Christine ELLs and Bernie hi and myself, and we said, okay, let’s do this Deaf theater troupe, and it started off kind of in the high school program, and now we’ve branched out, we’re a registered nonprofit. And our whole goal and mandate is creating accessible theater that looks at Deaf issues using deaf and hard of hearing and hearing allies, you know, performances.
Barb McGrath 2:08
So one of the things and I came to appreciate it as a child, when my parents finally found out that I only had partial hearing. I’m deaf doesn’t necessarily mean 100% hearing loss, is that correct?
Michelle Grodecki 2:21
Yeah. So Deaf is, um, there’s a lot of ways you can kind of go around it right. There’s capital D deaf, and then there’s lowercase D Deaf that you see. So a capital D Deaf typically is a person who is culturally deaf. So they’re involved in the deaf community, American Sign Language is their primary mode of communication. And then you’ve got your little D deaf, which is kind of what the medical community with us. And yeah, Jeff is kind of an all encompassing term. So before, we used to have the term like hard of hearing and hearing impaired, and we don’t really use the term hearing impaired, it’s it’s one of those terms that works, it’s just not really accepted any longer. And so we just kind of broadly use the term deaf. So my son is deaf. And I would say he’s a little bit of a capital D Deaf as well, though, because he’s pretty. He uses ASL is one of his primary modes of communication. He’s very heavily involved in the deaf community. But then he’s also medically little D deaf. And somewhat try to call him hard of hearing, because he does have some hearing, he has some speech. And so yeah, there’s a whole spectrum of of what it means.
Barb McGrath 3:30
Yeah. And you know, I find that very interesting, because you’re right, people historically would think, excuse me, people historically would think, okay, if you’re deaf, that means hundred percent, you can’t hear anything, you have to do sign language. But you don’t I mean, you can read lips. Sometimes you have partial hearing, and sometimes there’s surgical options. Is that the case in your son’s or, or his surgical options only for different cases?
Michelle Grodecki 3:54
Well, there’s always a surgical option. But for us, we wanted to ensure that our son has full access to everything. And often what happens is, when you’re given a diagnosis of having hearing loss, you’re sat in a room and you’re given a brochure. And the first thing they say is, don’t worry, we’re going to get them to talk.
But the reality of it is, is
that that speech is just a really small skill that someone has, right it’s all language. And, and there’s, there’s so much research that shows when deaf and hard of hearing kids are given full access to both American Sign Language and English, they do much better. So for us, we did explore all the medical options that were there and we just chose that that wasn’t going to be an option for us. Just based on kind of some medical things. The expense like a cochlear implant is very, very expensive. And, you know, the provincial government covers the first the surgery and your first set of processors and then all while the kid is in school that’s covered but then outside of school once they hit the age of 21 That’s something that we’re putting on them. So a processor right now is about $12,000 per processor. And so that really wasn’t something we were willing to put on him at that age. What we were doing was working, he was getting speech therapy, we had a deaf mentor. He picked up ASL really quickly. I’ll be the first parent to admit for the first year after diagnosis, I did everything that I was told I was told do not sign. I was told focus just on speech that he’ll he’ll, oh, wow matter. You want to just focus, you got to focus. And so I was doing all of that. And it wasn’t working. He was banging his head against the wall. He was super upset all the time. And we just so happen to I was really, really fortunate in that I had a deaf friend that I had met dr. john Webber, actually who I ended up being really associated with, but my dad taught with her in my first teaching assignment, we were in the same building. So when I contacted her and said, Joanne, this isn’t working, what do I do? And she said, like, Michelle, he can have both, you don’t have to pick just one. Hmm. So that was kind of always something that that was projected onto me as I had to pick, I could either make him speak, or he could do both. Like that was just like so taboo, okay. And I remember going to a speech therapy appointment with someone who wasn’t very open to assigning. So we were like closet hangers, we didn’t sign out to the public. And we didn’t let anybody know. And we showed up to an appointment. He hadn’t really been making any progress with speech. And suddenly he she walked in the room and he said, Hello, how are you? And it was so clear. And she says,
Barb McGrath 6:35
Michelle Grodecki 6:36
Wow, he’s really come a long way. Whatever you’re doing is really working. And I said,
Yeah, well, what we’re doing, actually, we’re signing. And then it was exactly there’s
Yeah, it was total shock. And it was that Well, once he wants to sign, once he learns to speak, he’ll, he’ll drop the signing. And I said, but he doesn’t need to drop the signing, he can do both. It’s okay. And so we’ve been really fortunate in that the deaf community has always been so embracing of us. And the fact that he does have some speech and he speaks any words to speak, and he signs when he wants to sign and, and that’s, that’s kind of where I really got involved with with the community is pre Oscar, there wasn’t a lot of signing deaf kids in the city that I could find a lot a lot of families I could connect with. So I really made it my passion and my mission to say to families, like you know what, we don’t have to follow this just only one path we can pick from this. And we can pick from this and pick what works best for us. Exactly. It’s our kids essentially. So yeah, that worked out really well for us.
Barb McGrath 7:34
So you know, what’s ironic to me, and that story is because our kids are the same age, we were using baby sign language with my son, because my daughter had just come home from Ethiopia. Excuse me. And that was so encouraged at that point in time was speak and use the baby sign language. So it really helped her adapt. So she was to when she came home from Ethiopia. And it really helped her adapt in terms of picking up the English language skills quickly or more quickly. For him, he was then seeing baby sign language, literally from ground zero. And he had language skills so early. Oh, yeah. And I 100% credited on having done both at the same time. So when when friends had their kids, and they were going through these tantrums, and he wouldn’t, because he had language skills, he could say yes, he could say no, he could say more. You could say he wanted baby milk. Like he could tell us what he wanted. We didn’t always agree. But he could tell us. And so that ability to communicate was huge. Yeah, here we are. 11 years later, we still use baby sign language. Because there’s times where like, you don’t want to have to say to your kids, like, No way across the room and stuff. And like, without a word, my kids can look at me. And if I’m like this, like the, you know, dead on the answer is no for mom, right? And in fact, sometimes it causes less argument in negotiation. can argue with
Michelle Grodecki 9:12
I’m kind of moving a little bit. That’s when my son came in the room and he was trying to talk to me and so I’m like signing off to the corner, like go away. I’m on a call. Don’t talk to me right now. And that’s totally it. Like, when my boys were born, baby sign language was super cool. Everybody wanted to do it. And it was really embraced with James my hearing son. Oh, Oscar, like, Oh, you know, you really shouldn’t do that. You really want to hear him say mom and that’s kind of thing has always played on my emotions was like you really want to hear him say mom, right? And I got so tied up in that like, Yeah, I do want to hear him say mom. And then he said no.
And that was enough. Right? Like, he doesn’t have to talk, you know, like, and so when I once I dropped that whole, like focus on speech and really focused on he needs language. Yes, exactly. It all came down. Right? And, and he was the kid going into preschool at the age of three, knowing his alphabet and signing all the words and, and having been able to fingerspell. And he was reading so early by the age of three, maybe driving down the street, and he would see a sign and he would be able to tell me what it said. And yes, so I attribute so much of that to the fact that we were, we were pumping him with language. I didn’t care how it got into him, but he just had the language.
Barb McGrath 10:25
Exactly. Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly. So tell me a little bit about your nomination and your journey, because we’re not just here today, because you happen to have a child who, you know, his death. So like, tell me about your nomination? Where did this come from? And congratulations, by the way.
Michelle Grodecki 10:44
Thank you. Yeah. So I was nominated by a friend of mine who just kind of saw the all the work that I do. And I should say, like, I don’t do what I do for accolades. I don’t do it because I’m going to get a nomination.
I know, right? I just really found a community that embraced me and my son. And I just saw that there were so many things that I wanted to help contribute to as well and be an ally. So my nomination stems from my involvement with mainly the deaf community in Regina, obviously, like, I’ve been on the board of directors with Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services for the last seven years. I was president for part of that time, and then had to kind of step back because I was I had my hands in too many pots, and there was just it was getting really hard to be a mom and, and do everything. But um, yeah, so I’ve just I’ve set up a family support group here in Saskatchewan for parents of deaf and hard of hearing children Facebook page, where I post information for families to find, I work with families to help them advocate with their school divisions and with the medical providers about the services that their child should be afforded in their schools.
I’ve worked a lot with, with governments trying to again, put Deaf and Hard of Hearing rights in the forefront being you know, having a deaf and hard of hearing person show up at the hospital, they should be able to have an interpreter, they should be told, here’s a paper write on this and, and communicate that way or, you know, those kinds of things. So I’ve just done a lot of stuff with that. And then with Deaf crows, that’s kind of become like, I want to call it my baby. But you know, I wasn’t my baby. It wasn’t my idea. But it was something that I really came on board with and have really done a lot of stuff in the background with dr. john Webber to to off as much support as I can. And then I’m a big social justice person. Apparently I didn’t realize until I started looking at all that I do. And I’m like, well, we do a lot with that. Um, a few years ago, Regina public lost their funding for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing preschool. And I was on the ledge of the stairs of the legislature saying like, this isn’t right.
And my son had already aged out, approached me, and why are you fighting this? Like, why does it even matter? Like your kids in grade one now it doesn’t matter. And I was like, No, because there’s there’s families coming up behind him that need these services. And so I had lots of meetings with ministry officials, I set up a an advocacy group in Saskatchewan called imatra, Saskatchewan with two other mama bears. One is a mom of a deaf child, and one is a mom of a child with autism. And the three of us did a lot of pushing and trying to get stuff going. So that’s kind of where I’m at now is I do stuff with that. And that’s my nomination came from.
Barb McGrath 13:39
And you’re you’re actually teaching in the public system right now, for high school students that are deaf and hard of hearing as well. Right. So what does that look like in Regina is does everybody go to one school? Like how? Tell me Yeah, so the parents kind of get the voice into how it looks.
Michelle Grodecki 13:54
Regina has a Deaf and Hard of Hearing preschool a bilingual preschool that was just started a couple of years ago, thanks to some federal funding and some provincial funding. There is an elementary program at Henry Johnson school in Medina. So that’s for students K to grade eight. And so those students are often in the mainstream environment. And then they get pulled out for tutorial support and more remedial support for like the language heavy courses.
And then in the high school, we have a program for grades nine through 12. But really, it’s more age based, like ages 14 to they have to leave at the end of their 21st year like their 22nd, the agent of their 22nd birthday. Okay, and so the program I teach in has profoundly deaf students who the majority would communicate using American Sign Language. So we do a lot of congregated programming delivering direct instruction. Because there’s nothing more frustrating for a kid than trying to listen to their teacher but getting the information second time through an interpreter and then that wait time, right you always think of the wait time in the classroom when the teacher has Okay. Do you have an idea? So you’re waiting for the interpreter to catch up and then the kids process And then by the time they’re ready to answer trains gone, sorry, you missed a boat. So in high school, it’s really great that we do direct teaching lots of times, especially for like our English language arts type of courses. So I’m teaching directly in ASL to a student. And we also always have a voice support. So if there are hard of hearing students or students who don’t sign, they’re always getting both modalities at all times. Okay. So then if the student has a question, I’m seeing it, and I’m getting that question directly from them, and I’m answering directly back to them. So but then we do also have students in the division that are in the city that are just off at their home schools in their different communities, and they would get support via, you know, an FM system or a hearing aid or what have you. And I do that, that’s kind of my new role. I started last years, taking care of the technology and the division too.
Barb McGrath 15:47
So how long How big is the program, then in high school, like how many students are involved in the program.
Michelle Grodecki 15:52
Um, so in the high school program, there’s 19 students, and better in our like, in our program, but then there are, you know, probably another 10, or 12, deaf or hard of hearing students that are just off in the in their home schools. And then in the elementary, there’s about 22. That number, again, that’s, that’s just in that program, and then their students throughout. So I would, I would probably take a guess that there’s, there’s probably upwards of 100, deaf and hard of hearing students in the city between all of the school divisions,
Barb McGrath 16:19
Mm hmm. And that’s a significant number. I mean, that’s more than a couple classrooms, that’s three and four classrooms worth of students. Never mind that, that that the classroom environment is different, right. And so when you have overcrowding in a normal classroom, if somebody can’t hear for a minute, not the end of the world, but in your situation, if they can’t see you, or they can’t see the interpreter, or if they don’t read time, and they need to be able to hear the language interpretation. So you know, it really brings some some new Dynamics, I suspect, to the classroom and to families, do you find that that a lot of families have really banded together? Like you’ve got something in common that not a lot of parents do? And so do you find that it’s become a very close knit community,
Michelle Grodecki 17:04
It is a very close knit community, like the deaf and hard of hearing community itself is very close knit. And I’ve really pushed to make sure that parents have a place that they can reach out. Because when my son was diagnosed, there were no parents, I couldn’t find anybody. Oh, you know, and that was in the early early days of Facebook, really, there wasn’t a lot out there. And yeah, the agencies that had contact with that with parents didn’t really want to put me in contact with those parents, because I was assigned on parent, so I was bad.
So that that kind of became my thing. And so, so yeah, and it’s kind of interesting now. And it’s, it’s sometimes a double edged sword is, a lot of the students that I teach, I’m really good friends with their parents, because we’ve met through the support groups and stuff that I’ve, I’ve formulated and, and so you know, it’s gotten me into trouble sometimes where a parent will come to me to talk about something, and I will, of course, want to solve the problem. But then, you know, that’s my colleague, that’s my colleague that they’re talking about in it, I have to try to get them to go back to the colleague and, and so I can empathize with them as the parents, but then I have to also draw that boundary of saying, like, you know, as much as I’d love to listen to this, and I can listen, I can’t really give you any, any feedback on on how you could roll with that. So that’s been sometimes been a struggle for me, but, but I think it’s been good to, like, there’s parents with all different philosophies as well, right? There are some parents that I, I work with that they they are, they do not want sign language, they think that is not something that they want for their child. And I respect that. And my whole thing for them is just to make sure that their child has access to whatever, whatever they need to to learn. Exactly. Well, parents have gotten a lot closer, I think, in the last 10 years, especially seeing that there’s a whole bunch of us out there and we can support each other.
Barb McGrath 18:53
You know, I remember when we were going through the process to adopter daughter, I remember being a part of a whole bunch of Yahoo groups, which I don’t think even exist anymore. Yeah. And like you say, 11 years ago, like Facebook existed, but it was in its infancy. And you certainly you certainly wouldn’t get in there and hop in a group like that didn’t exist. And, and you weren’t about to get on there in this new platform and share much more than, you know, a couple of pictures along the way. So we spent a ton of time in these, you know, offline or online, but kind of off board, Yahoo groups and talking to people and understanding the process and, you know, working through some of the challenges that we were dealing with. So that sense of community and that sense of belonging i think is particularly important to families in any way, shape, or form. But especially for for families who who have some unique challenges. That’s how I always phrase you know, some of the challenges that we deal with it’s it’s not special needs. It’s unique. Every kid is unique, and every kid has their challenges. It doesn’t matter what It is. So do you find that you know your son? And does he have a fairly close knit group of friends now, in both communities in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and in the the hearing community,
Michelle Grodecki 20:12
He definitely has a group of friends that he’s more comfortable with within the deaf community. And a lot of them sadly, because again, like, my son is 11. And he’s the only one in his class that signs, okay. So for him, it’s a little harder. There are some deaf and hard of hearing kids last year that were in his class with him that he likes to talk to you at school, but outside of school, it’s not really, really thing in our community, like in the hearing community kind of thing. As he’s getting older kids aren’t as forgiving and aren’t as willing to attempt to communicate with him. But you know, he’s heavily involved in sports, he plays our math, he plays like football, he plays basketball, like so. So those are kind of where his his friend groups come. But again, because of death crows, that’s the beauty is he gets he he’s an actor in def pro as he comes to DEF pros events. And so a lot of my high school students and him chum up and I’ve actually hired one of my students to be a mentor for him. And so he picks them up and they go out in the community. And now that COVID hit not my funds happen, but they do go in the community. And so he’s learning from another deaf person, how how to be deaf kind of thing, and you know, how to how to go to finagle the world and so they’re, they’re a really cute Group, a couple to see it together out in the community, because my son has a little bit of speech and and the boy that he’s with doesn’t, doesn’t speak at all, he just signs and so they go to like Burger King and my son so proud because he can, he can like tell the guy what what the other guy wants and, and then but at the same time, then they’re they’re kind of dealing with each other. And it’s like a lot of negotiation back and forth about what each can offer. So I think as much as my son has a mentor, he’s doing a little bit of mentoring as well. And it’s really nice.
Barb McGrath 22:00
Well, and you know, when I think about that, and I, I don’t know your son, but I see the Yes, the reciprocal relationship. But being able to build some independence in the world is a very natural growing up process. And for your son, I suspect that it was just that much harder. Because Yeah, when he’s out there, and something happens, if you can’t communicate to tell someone, it makes it 1000 times harder. Right?
Michelle Grodecki 22:32
Well, and that’s why I’m really grateful that we’ve always given him both modalities.
So and obviously, like, for some kids, that’s not an option, right? Like, they don’t have the hearing to have the speech. And that’s okay. Like, that’s nothing on the parent. That’s nothing on the kid. But we’ve always made sure and we’ve made that very clear to him is you need to be able to tell people what you need, whether that be with writing it out, if that is with talking, if that is with signing, if that’s a variety of both. So we’ve really, really pushed for him to be very independent. And often parents, when they see what he’s doing, they’re like, he can do that. And I’m like, Well, of course he can do that. And I see the high school kids right and I’m always like, okay, he needs to do with these kids can do and and and so then that’s kind of always always been my push for him is like, you’ve got to do it and it doesn’t matter that you’re deaf. That’s that’s just an excuse. You can use it as an excuse as to why can’t do something. Exactly. It can’t become a crutch.
Barb McGrath 23:26
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I’m Michele believer, not we are already out of time. You know, I know it’s the fastest 26 minutes of my life of your life. But thank you for being here today. And can you quickly share with everyone? Where would they learn more about Deaf crows? Where would they learn more about your community if they do have a child who’s deaf or hard of hearing, just quickly tell us how everybody could could find you or find your concern.
Michelle Grodecki 23:54
So the parent page is on Facebook, and it’s called Scratch when parents have deaf and hard of hearing children. And they just click to join. And there’s a couple of screening questions to make sure that you actually are parent with the deaf and hard of hearing child and then we let you in there. And then Deaf crows is triple w Deaf crows collective.ca. And there’s always information on there about upcoming events. And there’s also a Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram and it’s at DEF crows y qR kik. That is awesome.
Barb McGrath 24:24
Thank you very much for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure. And it’s kind of a, you know, neat conversation for me because as I say, even though I don’t remember it, my parents often talked about how they were feeling when they found out that I only had partial hearing. So this is a really interesting conversation for me. Well, thanks for having me. Absolutely. If you’d like to be a guest on the show, and you can email me at Barb at Google girl.ca or reach out on Facebook and Instagram at Above the Fold. ca. Just a reminder, you can even submit questions in advance of our live show. on our Facebook page, I’m your host, Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl. Remember, you worked hard for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.
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Michelle is a passionate teacher of the Deaf & Hard of Hearing in Regina. When one of her twin sons was born deaf she began classes in American Sign Language (ASL). She fell in love with the language and the community; she has been an invaluable advocate and mentor to Saskatchewan’s Deaf community ever since.
She is an administrative team member and former vice-president of Deaf Crows Collective, a Deaf Theatre troupe. She is involved with the development and execution of performances and Art installations that connect the Deaf and Hearing worlds. She volunteers her time interpreting, and manages the media relations of the troupe.
She is the current vice-president of Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. She organizes events for Deaf youth and their families such as a 2014 Signing Time Concert and Parent Workshop and the annual DHH children’s Christmas Party.
Connect with Michelle @ Deaf Crows Collective
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