Tucked away in picturesque Vann’s Valley in Cave Spring is one of the most unique schools in Georgia. The Georgia School for the Deaf is the state’s only residential school for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing students.
Established in 1846, GSD is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year! When GSD opened its doors, there were four students and one teacher, Mr. O.P. Fannin. Fannin and his students didn’t know they were the first step in what has become a long tradition of education, but we look back on them with gratitude.
Any school that’s been around for 175 years has experienced many changes—and has seen some things come full circle. GSD is a bilingual school; our two languages are American Sign Language (ASL) and English. You might think this makes GSD classes function like what you might see in a world language class such as Spanish. But that’s not quite the case. In a Spanish class, you hear Spanish spoken, and you see Spanish written—all the same language. In GSD’s classes, you see ASL signed and English written—two different languages! American Sign Language is a natural language with its own grammar and vocabulary that is different than English. GSD students learn both languages while taking all their required courses.
Classes taught in ASL haven’t always been the case, however. In the late 1800s-early 1900s, signed languages were looked down upon by educators, and most schools for deaf children, including GSD, banned signing. Instead, students were taught in the oral method, which focuses on speechreading (lipreading) and the use of speech and listening. While some people with hearing loss can successfully learn via speaking and listening/speechreading, others struggle. Fortunately, we know today that a “one size fits all” approach to education is ineffective and that Deaf culture, which includes ASL, is a rich and valued tradition. GSD’s mission statement reflects our belief in the value of ASL and Deaf culture: “All GSD students will graduate with a positive Deaf identity as bilinguals in American Sign language and English and will be prepared for successful life choices.”
Deaf identity? Deaf culture? These terms might be unfamiliar, but they are of great importance at GSD. Like most cultures, language plays a central role in Deaf culture. We live in an auditory world and being deaf can be isolating due to language barriers. Deaf culture arose in residential schools where deaf people were finally able to be fully included without barriers. As such, Deaf culture continues to value educating deaf children in ASL and English. Deaf culture includes the arts, history, films, organizations, and unique visual communication features. Many deaf and hard of hearing people identify proudly with Deaf culture and consider being Deaf a key element of who they are—those who do, use the capitalized D in Deaf to show they are proud to be Deaf and value their culture.
GSD is special in many ways, but in other ways, we are just like other schools across the state. GSD serves students in grades Pre-K to 12. We are one of three schools run by the Division of State Schools of the Georgia Department of Education. We are a public school for a specialized population—there are no tuition costs or fees for educational services, lodging, or meals. Local school systems provide transportation from a student’s home to GSD or to Macon, where a charter bus furnished by GSD transports students who live south of Atlanta to and from the GSD campus. GSD follows the same state-mandated learning standards as other public schools and students take state-mandated assessments, as well as some local assessments.
GSD has dorms that allow us to educate students from across the state. Most of our students live on campus in dorms during the week and return home on weekends to be with their families. Some students who live locally travel to and from school daily. We have enrichment activities such as robotics and our own print shop, GSD Apparel, which makes GSD-branded clothing and many other items. We recently opened a student-run café. GSD offers after-school activities, such as sports and other fun activities, like eating out or seeing a movie. We have chapters of national organizations such as Beta Club and Jr. National Association of the Deaf. Students can compete in Deaf-friendly events such as Academic Bowl and Battle of the Books. Residential life serves to continue and strengthen Deaf culture, help students develop a positive Deaf identity, promote language development, leadership, and independence.
GSD is proud of our long history and the work we do to help GSD students have good, successful lives after graduation.