Eastern NC School for the Deaf in Wilson doesn't miss a beat despite pandemic challenges

WILSON, N.C. (WTVD) -- Caniyah Loyd and Zaria Savage are as normal as any other third-graders.

Zaria has her life already planned out and is chatty as can be.

Caniyah was more focused on lunch.

"This is my favorite school because I'm deaf, and I don't talk," Caniyah said.

When ABC11 met them last week, they were finishing up their last meal before a week off for Easter at the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf.

ABC11 went inside the school as part of National Deaf History Month, which celebrates the accomplishments of those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

"There's not a lot of awareness that we are here," said Dr. Michele Handley, director of the school for the past three years.

The school has been in Wilson since the early 1960s.

There was a need for a second school for the deaf then because the other one in Morganton was overcrowded.

Wilson was chosen for its central location in the eastern portion of the state and its proximity to Wilson Community College.

"No. 1 is the kids," said Michaela Williams, who teaches middle-school science. "If it weren't for them, I wouldn't be here. They've got an energy I can feed off."

Williams' classroom shows the challenges brought on by COVID-19.

Plastic dividers are up on the desks and half of her students tune in virtually.

There are only 46 students in the school from K-12, which has made it easier for the school to weather the pandemic.

"I would almost say being a deaf environment makes it easier in some ways," Williams said. "I have friends who teach in other public schools who complain about the masks or oh, kids can't hear me. The hybrid piece is the hardest part though."

Handley said they've had the full support of the state during the pandemic and been fortunate to have those large classrooms with small class sizes.

Many students live here during the week and go home to areas such as the Triangle on the weekend, which also has still happened.

"Many of our students are in homes where their parents don't use sign language, and that creates a unique, linguistic isolation for those kids, so that's been a big challenge," Handley said. "Through it all, I feel that we've been very fortunate."
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