DAYTON, Maine - A Maine school has gone "above and beyond" in giving a special welcome to a 6-year-old student who is deaf by teaching the entire school American Sign Language.
Kindergartner Morey Belanger is the Dayton Consolidated School's first deaf student.
"It's really surprising. I think we were really blown away by all the support that her classroom and other classes have given her," mother Shannon Belanger said, adding that it's "really special."
Kimberly Sampietro, the school's principal, said "it's a wonderful feeling" knowing the other students can communicate with Morey.
"Not only to know Morey feels included and just like any other kindergarten student. But also, that other students are also learning from Morey," she said. "They are getting a lot of lessons that they don't even necessarily know they are - and I am sure Morey doesn't know she is giving them yet."
Debra Gallant, an Ed Tech III and paraprofessional who goes to class with Morey every day.
"I knew that if these kids were going to be true friends, they needed to know how to speak her language," Gallant said.
Gallant taught Morey's classmates sign language.
"At the start of the year, I noticed that, on their own, kids were watching me and trying to help Morey by using signs like 'sit, stand, walk' etc," Gallant said. "I realized that unless they really knew 'how' to talk to her, she would always be on the outside looking in."
She said she gets "a little emotional" when she watches Morey and her friends interact.
"As educators I think we focus so much on bridging the educational gaps between students, that the social aspect can easily be overlooked. It is important to my co-workers and me that this doesn't happen," Gallant said.
The school said in a Facebook post that their community has embraced American Sign Language, saying that many staff and students are learning additional signs on their own. Sampietro said students now know around 20 signs, more or less. The school has provided extra staff training, she said, adding that they have gone "above and beyond" in learning ASL and communicating in ways to "meet Morey's needs."
"It was what is best for Morey. If a student was in a wheelchair, we'd build them a ramp. If a child was blind, we'd provide material in Braille. Morey's needs help with communicating. We wanted to do whatever we could to make Morey feel like all other students and included," Sampietro said.
In that inclusive spirit, the school has taken other measures to make Morey feel at home. Sampietro said ASL signs have been posted throughout the building. Students and staff can even wear an FM system with portable microphones that they can speak into, after which a Bluetooth system brings the sounds to Morey's hearing aids, she said.
On Friday, the school also invited a live Cinderella to perform a song with sign language--alongside Morey.
"We wanted to celebrate Morey, and the effort of our students, as well as take this opportunity to show that sign language goes beyond the walls of just our building and Morey," Sampietro said.
Belanger said she got "teary-eyed" while watching her daughter "just beaming" while performing with Cinderella.
The "Cinderella" performer in real life is a sophomore in high school whose goal is to be an interpreter in a school for a deaf child. Morey's school wrote on Facebook, "Thank you to Rent a Princess for donating your services!"
Gallant said the students have been "amazing, like little sponges, wanting to learn more and more each day."
"I'm so proud of them all and happy that Morey is truly a part of the class, and a friend," she said.
This story was reported in Los Angeles.