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Since West Middle teacher Kelland Garland started the Presidential Leadership Program in 2009, he has been on the lookout for students to invite into the program.
Although some cannot attend because of conflicting schedules, Garland doesn’t let that stop him from inviting those students on the group’s trip to Washington D.C., during spring break.
Sulmi Gomez is one of those students with a conflicting schedule. Gomez cannot attend the program because she is in another class with Elizabeth Steinert, the school’s teacher of the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
“While Sulmi is not a student in the program due to her having another class with Mrs. Steinert during that period, she does demonstrate leadership qualities in that she is striving to improve her life through education and experiences,” Garland said. “I wanted to make sure she had the same opportunities that all students have, so I asked her if she would be interested in attending.”
Steinert said Gomez, who is deaf, was thrilled with the opportunity, but at $1,000 the cost to send both Gomez and Steinert, to serve as her interpreter, was prohibitive.
So, Steinert started to look for ways to help.
“She was picked because of her perseverance through struggles, always having a good attitude and working hard to be successful at meeting her goals,” Steinert said. “Although she is so excited to be invited to join this trip, it is extremely expensive for her family and they cannot afford it.”
Steinert has worked with Duanne Puckett, the school’s public relations coordinator, to have Gomez spotlighted on district’s Web site and has passed out information among the district’s staff to try to raise money to underwrite the trip.
To help, Gomez put together a presentation about the trip and why she wants to go. In the short, written presentation, Gomez gives the top 10 reasons why she should go:
“10. I want to see more states in America.”
9. I will get the opportunity to have a sleepover with other girls.
8. I need to learn more about the government, for example, the White House, Congress, the court system, and the House of Representatives.
7. I want to go to Ford’s Theater and I will sit in the balcony like Abraham Lincoln.
6. I want to go to museums and memorials to learn about American History.
5. I want to see the Abraham Lincoln memorial.
4. I want to meet the president and I will tell him that I am a deaf student.
3. I want to meet new interpreters and learn more sign language.
2. I want to see teachers at Gallaudet.
1. I want to see Gallaudet University and the many Deaf people that go there.
“Can you please help me go to Washington DC? Thank you very much.”
Steinert said the trip is related directly to the district’s goals of getting students College and Career ready because, not only would Gomez get the opportunity to learn about the country’s leaders but also she would get the chance to travel to Gallaudet University, which is the only university in the world specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
Garland said he was aware of Gallaudet being in Washington, so he altered the schedule so Gomez could spend a day at the campus.
“We have actually created the itinerary so that they can go for a full day and meet with teachers and students so that Sulmi gets a good idea of what it is like on campus,” he said.
Steinert said the opportunity to spend a day on campus could be an eye-opener for Gomez.
“While there, she will be exposed to many high-achieving deaf people who are working towards bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees,” she said. “As of right now, Sulmi's big goal is to become a math teacher and teach students who are deaf. Visiting Gallaudet University will help her realize that this goal is achievable and provide her with resources of how she can attain her dream of becoming a math teacher for deaf students.”
West Middle School has set up an account to hold funds for Gomez’s trip, and checks can be made out to West Middle School, with Washington DC-Sulmi Gomez in the note line, and can be delivered West Middle, Garland or Steinert. The deadline for Gomez and Steinert to raise the funds is Feb. 28.
“I really hope people will be able to help her achieve this goal,” Garland said. “I'm excited for her and look forward to learning about travel with her as a deaf student.
“She has agreed to teach us some basic sign language, and I think this will be one of our best trips yet due to her being with us.”