Josiah is not your typical NCC student - and neither is Natsuki. Natsuki’s resource teacher, Michele Barlow, could never have imagined how great it was going to be for the paths of these two students to cross!
When he was a child, Josiah’s family often moved, and he had to change schools a number of times. Upon entering a new classroom for the first time, he saw some people with special needs and some who were deaf. To Josiah, it looked like they were “...throwing their hands around.”
When asked what they were doing, they responded, “It’s sign language - you talk with your hands.”
Josiah was hooked immediately. He stayed in during recesses to learn more. He quickly progressed in his efforts to learn American Sign Language (ASL). Unfortunately, Josiah’s family had to move once again, and the next school he attended didn’t have ASL.
“I still really felt a connection to it, so I started buying books about sign language and watching videos - anything I could do.”
Then, Josiah met a deaf person at his church who became a close family friend. Together, they attended events like “Deaf Fest” and she shared about the history and importance of sign language. With her help, Josiah was becoming fluent in ASL.
Little did Josiah know that yet another switch in schools would give him an even greater opportunity to communicate in ASL. Josiah’s sister had attended NCC, and convinced him that this would be a great school for him. He decided to give it a try.
“I visited the school, and I felt like something was calling me here. I know I made the right decision.”
When the new 2017-18 school year began in September, a fellow student told Josiah that there was a deaf student at NCC.
“My mouth dropped! I was excited because I heard that she was in my art class.”
Excited, Josiah flew to the art room, swung open the door. Mrs. Barlow was introducing Natsuki to Mrs. Blue at that moment. Josiah ran up and tapped Natsuki on the shoulder. She turned around and Josiah signed to Natsuki: “You’re deaf - that’s amazing!”
“And that was my first mistake! You don’t say that! She started laughing, and I started laughing. I was so sorry because I said that out loud - and in sign language!”
Natsuki signed back to Josiah, “Yes, I know a little sign language.”
Josiah was thrilled. “I was so happy because there’s someone here that I can actually talk to in sign language.”
Resource teacher Michele Barlow supports students who have learning challenges. To the best of her knowledge, NCC had never enrolled a deaf student before. She wondered if the team at NCC could effectively accommodate Natsuki’s needs and help her to succeed in her studies. Everyone could see that Natsuki was an incredibly intelligent and highly motivated young lady, so faculty and staff decided to go for it.
Mrs. Barlow knew that it would be a big learning curve for Natsuki and the entire NCC community. She talked about the challenges that Natuski faces in moving forward.
“Natsuki fits in really nicely here. She came to us as a low-level English student. We put her in ESLAO, she’s progressed to level ESLBO and is flying through it - above 80%, so doing really well as an English learner. Her challenge is to continue learning English, but at the same time, she needs to learn American Sign Language. Natsuki has a little bit of Japanese sign language behind her, but she needs to have ASL in order to progress into university. So it’ll have to be a balance for her - learning English and ASL at the same time.”
Mrs. Barlow is not only learning ASL to help support Natsuki, but is also is reaching out to find programs in the local deaf community that Natsuki can participate in.
“That immersion is important for Natsuki. As much as a hearing person can communicate with ASL, it isn’t the same as a deaf person communicating with her in ASL.”
Mrs. Barlow addressed some challenges the faculty face. “It’s the little things…like when you teach, and turn around and write on the blackboard…you have to remember that Natsuki is not hearing any of that. It’s a constant retraining of some habits. A lot of tricky little things that go into it - but nothing that can’t be taken on.
“Natsuki has had a wonderful semester. We gave her some really good classes…art, math, ESLBO - she’s excelling. She has a spare class with myself, so that works out really well. Next semester is going to be the tricky one. It’s going to be the hard stuff: science, and civics, history, but she’ll still have that resource period with myself and we’re hoping to give her that spare class for the rest of her schooling here. It’s a great piece of support for her.
“She is very well liked. In fact, we have a Sign Language Club. It was Natsuki who pushed for it, advocated for it - who got one of our biggest turnouts of all the clubs on campus. We have Club every week. A lady from the community who is deaf comes in and works on conversation pieces with us. Natsuki was the big drive for it. All of the kids like her.”
Josiah has been instrumental in teaching Natsuki the ABC’s and other ASL basics. He is very impressed with Natsuki.
“She’s super, super smart! It’s incredible how smart she is! In math class, she has over a 95% average - that’s crazy! I couldn’t imagine coming from a different country, being deaf, learning English, and sign language, and learning to read lips too - and succeeding! That’s what she’s doing - and that’s amazing! When we see each other from across the dorms, we can sign to each other and she understands what I’m saying. I understand what she’s saying. It’s really great!”
He describes Natsuki as brave, always happy and smiling, and has a positive attitude all of the time.
“She’s bright and bubbly and always trying to make someone’s day. Even though she’s deaf, it doesn’t hold her down and doesn’t let that define who she is. She’s her own person and that’s what makes her special.”
In addition to ASL, Natsuki wants to be able to speak English. Along with Mrs. Barlow, Josiah helps Natsuki with word pronunciation.
“In class I help interpret things while mouthing it, so she can see the signs, and then look at my lips to see which ones match. When she’s really struggling with a word, she puts her hand on my throat, and her other hand near my mouth. She feels the vibrations in my throat, and feels the air on her hand. She tries to imitate that herself and she then gets the word. That is INSANE! I don’t think I could do that. She has lots of ways of communicating - and she’s succeeding here - and it’s amazing!”
When Natsuki was hired to do some casual work back in Japan, everyone around her told her she couldn’t do it because of her deafness. Natsuki wants to help the deaf community break down these perceptions and give people hope. She wants to encourage people who think they can’t accomplish much because they’re deaf.
“Deaf people are sad. They think that they can’t do anything.”
Natsuki makes sure that she stays positive and is always smiling. She wants the deaf community to know that you don’t have to be sad. You can be deaf and happy at the same time.
“It’s my first time coming to another country to study. I want to show deaf people that they too can do it. I’m learning a different language. And I’m deaf, and it’s really hard, and I’m reading lips from a language that I don’t even know. So, if you’re deaf - you can do it!”
Mrs. Barlow is amazed at how Natsuki’s needs were met providentially in bringing Natsuki and Josiah together at NCC.
“Josiah is especially helpful when it comes to life in dorm after school. He is a key piece in Natsuki’s immersion into the NCC community. It’s so important to get her into the community more, experiencing day-to-day conversation. That’s our goal; we want to immerse her in it.”
Mrs. Barlow is very proud of Natsuki. “She self-advocates, she has great work habits, she studies, she’s self-motivated. If she didn’t have those components, it might not have worked. You have to be self-driven. You have to be self-motivated to get where she’s at. She can do whatever she wants. I think she has some big challenges ahead of her, but so far, she’s proven that whatever she wants to do, she can certainly do it.”
During this interview, Mrs. Barlow pointed to Josiah as he signed our conversation to Natsuki. “This is amazing! she said. “It’s awesome.”
Natsuki and Josiah are an inspiration to everyone at the school. They light up our campus!