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Graduation at the State Special Schools:
The joy of success. Age 50 – 60

Recently retired from the California Department of Education, Andrew Laufer is writing a book about his life including periods as a butcher's helper, food service worker, construction laborer, animal research assistant, seasonal fire fighter, and janitor. In his youth, he hitch-hiked up and down the coast and out to Colorado numerous times providing context for hundreds of short stories.

One of my responsibilities while working with the California Department of Education was oversight of three State Special Schools; two are schools for the deaf and one is the school for the blind. The schools for the deaf provide a language-rich environment where all staff and students use American Sign Language. Students at the schools for the deaf have the closest thing to a normal school environment because of full access to language, albeit a visual language.

The School for the Blind has the latest in technologically advanced assistive devices to help students compensate for a lack of sight. They also have orientation and mobility specialists to help them learn how to navigate the world with a white cane, shop or take a bus, things we take for granted. They had an impressive music program led by a blind instructor who did an incredible job teaching kids, many whom have never touched an instrument. Like the schools for the deaf, it provides most of their students with an educational experience far richer than they would get in the public school system.

At the schools for the deaf, students often enroll only after they fail in mainstream programs. Failure is commonly attributed to social isolation because few hearing people know sign language and it is too difficult to communicate with Deaf students. Lack of communication at home is also an issue when parents and siblings fail to learn sign language. At the schools for the deaf, students experience a language-rich environment for the first time in their lives, suddenly finding themselves full participants in a community. They form bonds that last a lifetime.


Graduation at the Schools for the Deaf are enlightening. Most students stop halfway across the stage to sign to their families and friends something about how their life began when they came to the school and how much they appreciate being an alum. Most are prepared to take on the world and feel they no longer have a disability.

At the school for the blind, the primary disability is blindness or visual impairment, but secondary disabilities also challenge academic success. These students, without exception, express great joy in either graduating or receiving certificates of completion at the end of their stay at the school. One particularly inspiring young lady was blind and had also lost the capacity to speak. She was a bright, happy graduate and expressed her joy with the use of a machine she operated to mechanically voice her thoughts to the crowd. When she received her diploma, she expressed gratitude to the school and warm love to her parents for being supportive and sending her there. I had tears in my eyes after her speech.

I was inspired and motivated by the students' every time attended the State Special School graduations. My petty complaints are minuscule compared the challenges they face every day. While I attended the events to support them, I always came away with a more positive outlook on life.

God bless them, and God bless the State Special Schools.

~ Andrew Laufer

Papa Laufer’s Stories: Positive Reflections of Life in America is available on Amazon. 




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