The New Deaf Unit by Helen Bing
Te Aroha - (Love)
And so, the song began. Actually, the song began a little early thanks to a slight hiccup in the signing between the deaf and the hearing.
Here we were though, gathered in the newly built deaf unit at our school. We’d been preparing for this day for the best part of a year or more.
Although our school had been linked to the Deaf Education Centre in our community for years, the children previously had been taught in small classrooms that were attached to the mainstream classes. Now, however, there was a specially designed pair of rooms to cater for the deaf children in our community.
Te whakapono (Hope)
There was a lot of hope and goodwill centred around this building. Long before those of us teaching in our school were aware, there had been considerable planning going on. At a staff meeting we were introduced to the concept and to the senior teacher who would be leading the team. She was deaf herself and she had a very clear vision of how things would proceed.
Eventually the building began. The site was on the side of the bank that lead down on to the Junior field. Before work could begin, the old prefabs that had been there were to be removed in the middle of the night on trucks that specialised in this type of work. The concrete block foundations were erected, and the outline of the building was set in place.
The day the walls were delivered added a bit of excitement though. A huge truck load of concrete tilt slab walls blocked the driveway down the back of the school. A crane was extended to its full height to lift them onto the building site. Three of us teachers and our classes were evacuated from our rooms as the crane swung the slabs up and over our classrooms.
By early afternoon the outer walls of the new building were ready for the builders to put into place. I stood alongside the driveway with my class and watch the big strong crane fold itself up, like a huge transformer, into what was no more than a small truck and drive away. We had our room back again.
The weeks passed and the building took shape. New people came and worked on the interior, painting, carpeting and wiring. The technical people came and did whatever technical people do to create the necessary environment for the adults and children who would be working in these rooms. Finally, the painters came back and decorated the outside walls to match the grey walls of the rest of the school with maroon trims.
Me te rangimarie (Peace)
Now the unit was finished, and the children were able to move in. The teachers and the teacher aides had worked hard to make the teaching areas as inviting and child friendly as they could. There were three workspaces: two were individual classrooms, one for the juniors and the other for the seniors and then there was a shared area in the middle that could be used for whatever it was needed for.
I taught the New entrants in the main school, and also worked alongside the teacher in the new units’ Junior classroom. We are a very multi-cultural lot in our school. We are from the Pacific Islands, Asia, of European descent and anywhere else in between. Another words, we are typical New Zealanders. The deaf children are part of the school’s family and, as time goes by, some are able to be integrated into the mainstream classes. The lead teacher in the senior room works with the 8 to 11-year olds.
Tatou tatou e (For us all)
Well the building may already be in use and the teachers and children may be well established, but the official opening had not yet taken place. My colleague from the Deaf Unit came to see me and invited my class to represent the Junior school. One of the mainstream senior classes was asked to join in as well.
My colleague and I were the guitar players of the group. This did not necessarily mean we were expert guitarists, but our song only needed the three basic cords, D, A7 and G - well within our range. Te Aroha was the song of choice.
We practised. My how we practised our song. We went through the words line by line, my 5-year olds and I. Copies were pasted into the children’s poetry books so they could practise at home until the parents must have been sick of the sound of it. We sang it early in the morning, just before
break times and then just before we went home, making sure we were word perfect. The deaf children learnt the signs for the words, and the words came to life with their beautiful fluid actions. The senior children practised with their teacher.
All of us got together in the shared space, the young children to the front facing the windows that looked out over the houses and beyond to the Whau River and the Waitemata Harbour in the distance. The older children sat behind with their legs folded so that each child took a minimum amount of space. It took time for the young ones to focus on the singing. They were so fascinated by the signing that they forgot to sing and soon joined in with the actions as well. We had them go over and over the song until eventually voices, signs and guitars blended together.
Finally, the day of the opening was here. The children were seated, the dignitaries were welcomed, and the teachers tucked themselves into corners as teachers do. I had my guitar perfectly tuned with my new guitar strap placed over my shoulder. My colleague stood opposite me ready to give me the nod, so I knew when to start.
The Kaumatua (the elder chosen to represent the Deaf Education Centre) began to speak. The children sat quietly while the words were signed. They may not have understood the signs, but they knew the significance of the day. A pity though that the two females with the guitars weren’t quite so attentive. I had my eyes on Jo, as she was the fluent signer. Obviously, she would know when it was time to sing. Suddenly she straightened and gave me the nod. I leapt into action. The children saw that we were ready for the off, so their heads swivelled in our direction. We strummed the opening chords - D D A7 A7 D - and our by now well-trained children burst into song.
What we neglected to see was the Kaumatua waving his hands at us frantically. The poor man had paused to gather his thoughts, and just as we burst into song, he was about to finish his final words. But there was no stopping us. We were away in our own little world.
Thankfully the song is not that long. The now resigned Kaumatua waited, and then finished his speech. One or two other speeches were given, and the final blessings completed.
The new unit was now official.