Unique masks help students innovate, adapt at T.H. Rogers

Asusena Gonzales’ 9-year-old son, Brandon Martinez, is deaf and attends the Region 4 Regional Day School Program for the Deaf (RDSPD) at HISD’s T.H. Rogers School.

Brandon has been at Rogers since the age of 3, growing and learning like any other student. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The school closed and went fully remote in March, and Gonzales worried that virtual school would be a challenge for her son and that he could fall behind, but Brandon exceeded all expectations.

“He was able to learn multiplication through virtual learning, and that was shocking to me because I thought he would be delayed but … it has been really great,” she said. “Actually, we’ve been learning with him, and learning the signs to assist him, which has been really good.”

The RDSPD program at Rogers is a community in which everyone, students and staff, either have an experience with or an understanding of deafness. After seven months at home, Brandon is happy to be back on campus surrounded by that community and RDSPD Elementary English teacher Brenda Marsh, who missed her students tremendously.

“When COVID shut down the school that was hard, and I can almost cry thinking about it because it was hard being detached from them,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “They are like my own kids, and I enjoy being with them.”

Now, with HISD’s return to in-person instruction, a portion of that community is back together, aided, in large part, by the use of clear face masks. Lip reading and facial expressions are vital for communication for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, and the specialty masks, which have a transparent, plastic window over the mouth, facilitate those communications while keeping everyone safe.

“The masks are truly unique for T.H. Rogers students in our RDSPD program, as well as our faculty and staff, to rely on lip reading for communication,” Principal Tiffany Chenire said. “Our goal is for our deaf and hard of hearing students to do exactly what their peers are doing.”

T.H. Rogers is committed to providing deaf or hard of hearing students the best learning experience possible inside and outside of the classroom. And while it may be impossible to know what the future holds, especially during a pandemic, the school community will move forward together as a team.

“Because of COVID, it forced parents and educators to be more involved with each other, and I’ve developed a close bond and relationship with our parents,” Marsh said. “I tell them we are a T.E.A.M – Together Everyone Achieves More.”