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American Annals of the Deaf

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Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School

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My best friend would always stand up for me. He would tell me what everyone else was talking about if I missed something (which was often) in conversations among hearing peers. He encouraged me to be involved with the band and sports. He helped to make my mainstreaming experience a positive one. M 93
In my own mid-elementary summer months, I would often ride my bike over to a nearby neighborhood playground. This was ideal for me because maybe six to ten kids would be there each day. Most of the time, we would be outside. The smaller number of kids meant that they could get to know my skills more easily. And it was quieter, so I could more easily follow any one-on-one conversations.

We usually played physical games, and I was good at all of them. I have very positive memories of those times. Once, when choosing sides for baseball, a particular boy was a little reluctant to accept me on his team. Then I hit a home run my first time up to bat. From that point on, he would call me "the girl slugger" with obvious admiration. (I could see the admiration on his face.) After those few summers, I never saw him again until we were both adults in our thirties. He still remembered me, as I did him! This one boy's positive remark was an internalized source of support for me during all my solitary years and beyond as well.

The participants talked about classmates who were particularly supportive with academic experiences as well. These friends repeated the words during spelling tests, shared notes, or helped out during group discussion situations.

My sixth grade teacher had a very thick accent. I knew right away that she wasn't going to be easy to lipread. My friends in the class were helpful. They would often turn to me and [repeat what the teacher said]. Them, I could lipread. One boy, my best friend at the time, was great. Spelling tests were the worst. But after the teacher said the word and the class wrote the word down, this friend would turn to me and repeat it for me. If I still could not understand the word, he was the only one who was willing to get out of his seat and act it out. He was a very outgoing and brave fellow. I appreciated his efforts. F 87

Lastly, several participants described situations where friends stood up for them when they were being teased or bullied.

My friend and I were involved in many activities together--dancing, Girl Scouts, sports. One time, I was walking home from school and someone started to beat me up. My friend popped up and pulled the kid right off of me. From that time on, she always walked home with me so no one could tease or pick on me. I was so grateful for that. F 83

This friend and I did homework together from third to fifth grade. He saw me as equal and treated me kindly. He defended me and told the class bully to leave me alone. M 88
Many participants believed that having at least one good friend was a critical factor in surviving those school days. As I read through the many e-mails I received, I thought of my own classmates in my K-12 and college years--those who made my life easier. My friends at elementary school were Mary Ellen and Bettina. We lived very near each other and had become friends as soon as we were old enough to play outside unsupervised, which was pretty young in Cos Cob in the 1950s. In the elementary years, they were "it," so to speak. In junior high, senior high, and at Washington College, I did manage to have one or two close friends. If not for these women, life would have indeed been terribly lonely.
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