The Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (PSD) located in the Germantown section of Philadelphia is a school unlike most others. The school, which specializes in teaching students who are hard of hearing or deaf, is one of the oldest in the country of its kind.
The school currently educates approximately 205 students. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, 2-3 of every 1,000 children are hard of hearing or deaf, and more than 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Aside from the normal educational curriculum, students also learn both American Sign Language, as well as spoken English.
While the school educates students of all ages, they have a great focus on helping students prepare for their futures. Karen Leslie-Henry is the front line of helping these students transition out of school, as the Director of Continuing Education and Community Outreach at PSD.
As part of Leslie-Henry’s position, she works toward finding internship and mentorship programs throughout the community for the students. Currently with the help of Leslie-Henry, the school has five off campus community partners, which includes the Center in the Park, Maplewood Manor Nursing Home, Juvenile Justice Center, Germantown Friends School, and the Maplewood Mall.
“We also want them to get used to the different behaviors. Being at school and being at work are very different, and there are work nuances that our students get to experience and learn from,” Leslie- Henry explained.
Currently PSD has two students enrolled in the internship program at the Center in the Park, which is a senior citizen community center in Germantown. The students get to work in the office center along side the staff and are able to experience a real workday.
While interning at the Center in the Park, students assist with office/ clerical support. Their job tasks include making copies, doing some filing, sorting and data entry.
Alicia Garrison, who is a program coordinator at the Center in the Park, has had firsthand experience with the deaf community while growing up with her sister who is deaf. She has had the opportunity to work with students from the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf through the Future Transitions Program.
“These opportunities are good for the students. Soon they will be in the real world and will be expected to figure out things on their own. I know the goals of these experiences are to help the students develop critical thinking skills as well as work skills,” Garrison said about the program.
Leslie-Henry said that many of the students have spoken highly about the experiences they had during different internships.
“Students have made comments like ‘we are learning how to work in a real office’ and ‘We don’t always need an interpreter, the supervisor shows us what to do by demonstrating the tasks and we follow along’ or ‘It’s fun when we are busy at the workplace, we like it best when we are busy,’” she said.
In Garrison’s eyes, the most important part of being involved in this special internship opportunity is the help that she is able to provide for the students before they transition into the real world.
“For young people it can be scary realizing that soon you will be on your own and responsible for yourself, even while they tell themselves they can’t wait for that time. The plan is for these experiences to provide the growth opportunities in an environment where they have access to support and guidance,” she said.
The internship programs are not only helpful to the students, but also add a type of diversity to the work environment that can be beneficial to the entire staff, Garrison explained.
“I know the Center enjoys the diversity the students bring to the center and I do, too. My sister is deaf and I know sign language and I know it makes them feel comfortable when there is some communication in their language as they are learning the “language” of the workplace. I really enjoy the student visits and wish they could come more often than once a month,” she said.
Leslie-Henry also represents the school off campus as part of her job title. She often exhibits the school at community events, gives sign language and deaf culture presentations to companies and business, as well as promotes the school at deaf culture events throughout the country. Leslie-Henry works towards keeping the community and the state aware of what is going on throughout the deaf community in the Philadelphia area.
-Text, images and video by Kelsey Dubinsky