Statistics show that locally, deaf students do not do as well academically as those who can hear, but St Andrew High School student Daneil Palmer has proved to be an exception.
The 16-year-old was last Tuesday named the top student for her grade for the fourth consecutive year.
Daneil was diagnosed as being deaf and hard of hearing at three-year-old, after medical examinations showed that hearing loss was profound in one of her ears and was at 70 per cent in the other. With only 30 per cent hearing, she has been wearing a hearing aid to facilitate communication with those around her.
Thirteen years after that life- changing diagnosis, the fifth- form student is showing those around that her disability will not be a deterrent to her pursuing her dreams of becoming an actuarial scientist.
In addition to being named the top overall student for grade 10 at her school’s thanksgiving service, she also received four subject prizes and a certificate of general excellence.
“I would say that because I have the support of my parents and the teachers here and the students here, I don’t really have a difficulty,” said Daneil who has consistently been listed on her school’s honour roll.
“When you are in class sometimes, and when the teacher is talking, sometimes you don’t hear what the teacher is saying and so you have to ask the teacher to repeat, or I ask a classmate to explain, or I may go to the teacher after school and ask her what she is saying.”
Daneil’s mother, Michele Palmer, describes her daughter’s success as a miracle.
“I say Lord, it has to be you, because she is the only deaf child as far as I know at St Andrew High at this time, and for 2011, 2013, all the classes she has topped the grade. Now, that has to be some kind of miracle,” she declared.
Daneil’s father, Percival Palmer, said his daughter was hearing perfectly at birth according to medical records; however, the family started getting concerned when at two years old she failed to respond to her mother’s call one day as she sat watching television with her brother.
“How Mommy knew that something was wrong was when she was literally shouting and her brother became agitated and Daneil wasn’t hearing anything at all,” he said.
They were initially told by a paediatrician that Daneil had water in the ears, but a subsequent test by an audiologist showed that the toddler was having problems with her hearing. Instead of attending a mainstream school, Daniel’s parents decided to have her enrolled at the preschool operated by the Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD). Fortunately, the school had just started a bilingual education programme.
“So that is when we had deaf culture facilitators in the system and somebody would come into our home where we live in Spanish Town, St Catherine, and that person would read to her, although from she was born, we would read to her,” said Percival, who explained that he and his wife were also taught basic sign language under the programme.
The bilingual education programme was introduced to improve the language and literacy levels of deaf children from the early years of life, after it was recognised that curriculum resources to meet the special needs of deaf students were inadequate.
It was further recognised that there were delays in identification and providing appropriate intervention for children with hearing loss.
The JAD was able to implement the programme with funding from the Organisation of America States to the tune of US$265,213.
At the time of implementation in 2000, it was found that the performance statistics for primary-level students sitting the Grade Six Achievement Test at schools operated by JAD reflected a 26 per cent average score for language arts in contrast to a national average of 58 per cent.
Although significant progress has been noted over the last 10 years in the number of CXC passes achieved by students in the JAD programmes, very few students passed the CXC English, with the system realising only four passes in English language or English literature over the period 1997-2006.
Although Daneil only attended preschool at JAD, her father believes the programme provided the right foundation for his daughter’s current success. After completing pre-school, it was suggested that she be enrolled in a mainstream school, and the youngster started at Excelsior Primary where she was placed in a class with other deaf students.
Daneil was named the top student for grade five, and upon completing her Grade Six Achievement Test was awarded placement at St Andrew High School. The teenager who is called “the bright girl” by her peers is very involved in several clubs at school, and particularly enjoys dancing.