Fox Hollow Elementary School's deaf and hard-of-hearing students had a lot of company during a special assembly held on Jan. 19.
The group reported to the building's gymnasium to hear inspiring words from Zack Sisson and Lauren Weibert, two professional athletes who were intent on spreading an important message. Both Sisson and Weibart are deaf, and they wanted to share their personal success stories with the students.
"We wanted to show that deaf people can be successful in sports … When we're together, we can push each other and have so much fun," said Weibert, a snowboarder who won two medals at the 2015 Winter Deaflympics held in Russia. "We want everyone to know that deaf people are capable of great things."
It was a message that wasn't aimed solely at the deaf and hard-of-hearing students at Fox Hollow, a school that serves as the Cherry Creek School District's home base for specialized instruction for those with hearing disabilities. The entire school was on hand to hear Sisson and Weibert share their insights – students from all grades joined teachers and staff in the crowded gym to hear a universal message of determination, perseverance and teamwork.
"Anything is possible with support from your peers," Sisson told the crowd through an American Sign Language interpreter. Sisson, a ski instructor in Aspen, stressed inclusivity and integrity during his address to the school. "Live with your heart. Give love and you will win."
It was an important message for every single student at the school, said Ruth Ryll, a teacher of the deaf at Fox Hollow. The event was an opportunity to spread a message of determination and persistence to all students, even as it was a chance to show the entire community that success knows no boundaries based on hearing.
That message resonated deeply at Fox Hollow, where instruction is specialized to include every kind of learner. For example, every classroom at Fox Hollow is equipped with a LightSpeed amplification sound system, which enables students to hear the classroom teacher from anywhere within the room. The school's deaf and hard-of-hearing students are an important part of the community, and Sisson and Weibert's words offered a valuable perspective.
"This is a pretty special opportunity," Ryll said. "Our speakers are deaf, just like a lot of the students here … It gives them an important success story."
The athletes spoke about their successful peers, skiers, mountain bikers and racers who have won medals, broke records and challenged biases. Weibert detailed her successful runs at the 2015 Winter Deaflympics, which are tailored for deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes. The games feature tweaks that make competition more manageable for participants. For example, lights are used in lieu of starting guns.
"We use a lot of lights and hand signals for a fair competition," Weibert said. "It's very important to support each other."
The stress on collaboration and support came up again and again in the speakers' presentation. It was a theme that Sisson and Weibert wanted to stick with the students long after they high-fived the athletes, gazed at Weibert's gold and silver medals and headed back to class.
"I don't believe anything is self-made," Sisson said. "We have to work together."