When Ghilain Masudi arrived in Lexington in July with his family, all Congolese refugees who had been living in Burundi, he faced an extra hurdle to adjusting to life in the United States: he is deaf.
With only some literacy in French and Swahili sign language, at that time communication with anyone outside his family was very difficult. After working with KRM and a local high school to discuss education options for him, Ghilain and his family made the decision that he would be better served attending Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) in Danville, about an hour drive from Lexington. He enrolled in September and now lives in Danville at KSD during the week, coming home to Lexington on weekends and holidays to be with his family.
Melissa Cantrell is the Director of Special Education and the District Assessment Coordinator at KSD. She has watched Ghilain transform from the time he enrolled this past fall. “His language has already exploded,” she says. “His personality is coming out more… He was quiet and reserved at first.”
The school has worked with Ghilain to create a tailored program to meet his special needs– a foremost need being to acquire American Sign Language (ASL) skills with very little knowledge of the English language. For the first few weeks Ghilain had intense one-on-one instruction with various KSD instructors to work on the basics of the English language and ASL; he started full-time classes in early November.
“Because he has such a knowledge base [of different languages], it’s easier to teach him a new language,” Melissa says. “A lot of his language learning is based on showing him and letting him experience new and different things.”
As KSD’s first ever refugee student, Ghilain has already begun thriving at his new school. A typical day includes PE, a specialized language foundations class, English, math, and an elective; Ghilain chose culinary class. Basketball is one of his favorite hobbies, and he recently made the school’s basketball team.
Melissa, who has witnessed Ghilain’s entire adjustment at KSD, says, “I hear nothing but great things. He seems really happy.”
Now with communication skills in English, French, and Swahili, Ghilain’s teachers are hoping that he will be able to graduate from KSD. The school “discovered that due to his birthday, if Fayette County will allow it, he may be able to attend KSD until age 21 and then get his diploma,” Melissa says.
In the meantime, Ghilain is just enjoying his new school and the new friends he has made there. On a recent visit to the KRM office, he used his developing ASL skills to describe his time at KSD: “I go to school at KSD. Learning English, play with and laugh with other deaf students all together. I play basketball. Playing and talking makes me smile.”[Top photo: Ghilain decorates holiday cookies during his elective culinary class.]