Deaf Storyteller Event Brings Students Together - Virtually

Posted on 05/19/2020
Dack Virnig


While learning from home has not been a struggle for some students, it’s been a brand new challenge for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Everyone can attest to the annoyance of an inconsistent internet signal. Without a good connection and clear picture, interpreting and lip-reading can be extremely difficult. “In a nutshell, it’s been frustrating!” said LaWanda Brewer, teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing at Becky-David Elementary. “Our students rely on the visual and tactile cues, and any platform we use makes it difficult to provide those.”

To bring her students who are deaf or hard of hearing together, Brewer decided the Annual Deaf Storyteller Event had to move forward - but this time, it would be virtual. “Our students shared that they miss the daily routine and being together with one another. They want to return to ‘normal,’ and providing the Deaf Storyteller in a virtual sense allows us a sense of ‘normalcy’ with all the many changes that we are enduring currently.”

The event is hosted as part of the St. Louis Storytelling Festival, through a partnership with the University of Missouri. Information was shared out through social media and garnered attention from across the state, country, and even internationally, with participants from Canada and South Africa. This year the event featured  Dack Virnig, an American Sign Language (ASL) storyteller and cartoonist. Virnig began posting his stories on YouTube and now shares his stories worldwide to show the beauty of ASL. “The storyteller can connect with our students through shared experiences of growing up with a hearing loss and their identity because he is ‘just like them,’” said Brewer. “It is also important for our students to see a Deaf adult fluently use ASL. Many of our students use a variety of modalities to communicate. We try to factor all of these needs in when planning for our event so that all students can “listen” in their preferred mode.”

The event may not have been the same as in past years, but the sense of togetherness was real as students participated at home with their families and through the chat. Adrienne Jacobsmeyer and her daughter Emily have attended the event for the past two years, last year in person and this year virtually. “The Deaf storyteller [event] is an event my child can relate to,” said Jacobsmeyer. “Peers gathering to see the art of their language in action. Being with peers is a very uplifting and soothing experience for Emily. Makes me happy to see her confident at these type of events.”

“I hope students feel a sense of empowerment by being able to take advantage of this opportunity to ‘meet’ Dack, as well as sharing the experience with their families,” said Brewer. “In a typical year, when we meet the storyteller in person, the stories told remain with the students, and they talk about it throughout the year until the next event.”

No one will forget the unique challenges and obstacles that early 2020 presented. Many will remember working from home, e-learning, and lots of handwashing. But these students will have a happy memory of an event where their different abilities weren’t that different.

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