School for the Deaf doesn't miss a beat during pandemic

ABC11 went inside the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf as part of National Deaf History Month, which celebrates the accomplishments of those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Video Transcript

JOSH CHAPIN: This simple brick building off of 301 in Wilson might not look like much.

DR. MICHELE HANDLEY: What's your name?

JOSH CHAPIN: What's your name?

DR. MICHELE HANDLEY: What's your name?

JOSH CHAPIN: Josh. But going inside this former state hospital-turned school--

INTERPRETER: Kanaya. This is my name sign.

JOSH CHAPIN: Can you tell her that's a really very pretty name?


JOSH CHAPIN: --leads you to much more.

INTERPRETER: My favorite is this school.

DR. MICHELE HANDLEY: Why? Why you prefer this school? Why?

INTERPRETER: Because I'm deaf, and I don't talk.

JOSH CHAPIN: Meet third graders Kanaya Lloyd--

DR. MICHELE HANDLEY: What do we have special about our school? Special, what?

INTERPRETER: We have sign language, right.


JOSH CHAPIN: --and Zaria Savage.

INTERPRETER: Hamburger and pineapple chunks.

JOSH CHAPIN: They're having their last meal before a well-deserved week off for Easter at the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf.

MICHAELA WILLIAMS: If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here. They've got an energy that I can feed off of.

- Michaela Williams is a middle school science teacher. Already a rambunctious--

MICHAELA WILLIAMS: Yeah. That's what makes it fun.

JOSH CHAPIN: Her classroom shows the challenges brought on by COVID.

MICHAELA WILLIAMS: I would almost say being a deaf environment makes it easier in some ways. I have friends that teach in public school, and they complain, oh, the mask, the kids can't hear me or other things like that. And the hybrid piece of it, for sure, is the hardest part. So I've got some kids here, some kids online and trying to do both at the same time.

JOSH CHAPIN: The school is K through 12 and only has 46 students.

DR. MICHELE HANDLEY: Well, my name is Michele Handley, and this is my name sign.

JOSH CHAPIN: Dr. Michele Handley has been the director for three years.

DR. MICHELE HANDLEY: There's just not a lot of awareness that we are here.

JOSH CHAPIN: So why Wilson? Back in the early '60s, there was a need for a second school for the deaf, because the one in Morganton was too crowded. Wilson was picked because of its central location here in the eastern part of the state and because of its proximity to a college. Wilson Community College is just three minutes from here.

DR. MICHELE HANDLEY: It's a typical school. This school has a long history of football championships even against typical district schools. Yeah, basketball championships.

JOSH CHAPIN: Dr. Handley said they've had the full support of the state during the pandemic and been fortunate to have large classrooms with small class sizes. Many students live here during the week and go home to areas like the triangle on the weekend, which is also still happened.

DR. MICHELE HANDLEY: So many of our students are in homes where their parents don't use sign language. And that creates a unique social and linguistic isolation for those kids. So that's been a big challenge.

JOSH CHAPIN: A bigger challenge is keeping the school and students in people's minds--

INTERPRETER: Really, we have five cars, but two of them are broken. So now, we just have three.

- --as they learn that they aren't that different.

DR. MICHELE HANDLEY: Through all of it, I just feel like we've been very fortunate.

JOSH CHAPIN: In Wilson, I'm Josh Chapin, ABC11, Eyewitness News.