Jacksonville Science Festival Opens Up Experiences for Deaf Children

Student playing a mixed-reality computer game at science festival

Northeast Florida college students who are training to teach deaf/hard of hearing children in schools or be interpreters in the community got some real-life practice Thursday at the Jacksonville Science Festival, where they used sign language to explain science concepts to deaf children.

“We’re getting good practice in ... science vocabulary and talking to the deaf in general,” said Morgan Green, a student in the University of North Florida’s deaf education program.

The children also teach them about current slang or other offbeat words — slime, for instance — and how to sign them.

“There is not really a sign for slime, but I’m sure today somebody will tell me,” said Hailey Cassano, also in the UNF deaf education program.

Begun seven years ago by Florida State College at Jacksonville and The Foundation Academy, the free two-day festival promotes science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, also known as STEAM, education. Any elementary, middle and high school student from public, private, charter or church schools may participate.

Students collaborate on their projects with teachers and local community experts in STEAM fields and two of them will win $1,000 scholarships, said Tia Unthank, director of community engagement for the festival. About 1,000 other students were expected to attend on field trips and learn from the participants’ booths.

The overall goal of the event is to change students’ “thinking about how they live in the environment,” Unthank said.

Three years ago the festival added booths specifically for visiting deaf students.

About 20 students and faculty from interpreting or deaf education programs at UNF, FSCJ, Flagler College and Ponte Vedra High School’s dual education program with FSCJ manned booths about a variety of STEAM topics for about 110 deaf children from the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Central Riverside Elementary in Jacksonville and Clay County Public Schools’ deaf program.

The goal “was to have more deaf students come to the festival,” said Lori Cimino, instructional program manager, ASL/English interpreting and digital media at FSCJ.

The more exposure they get to STEAM education the greater their opportunity to get involved and “be able to compete” for employment in those fields, said Caroline Guardino, director of the deaf education program at UNF.