First deaf secondary school student graduates

Jalenda Richards became the country’s first deaf student to graduate from secondary school in Antigua and Barbuda.

Now, the Christian Hill young woman, who walked down the aisle at her Clare Hall Secondary School graduation on Tuesday, already has her sights set on attending college in Canada.

Richards became totally deaf in 1999 by meningitis.

Her mother, Jaslyne Richards, said her daughter never allowed the disability to limit her ambitions.

Beaming with pride, Jaslyne was still overwhelmed with emotion when OBSERVER media spoke with her yesterday.

“I had mixed feelings knowing what she went through to get to a secondary school, it was not easy. In 2010, she had the opportunity to write Common Entrance and she passed in the top 100, but, she never got the opportunity to start secondary school from first form, it was a challenge because she is hearing impaired,” the mother said.

Jalenda was enrolled in the School for the Deaf in 2001.

Even after successfully sitting what is now the Grade Six Assessment, Jalenda faced a new hurdle in entering secondary school – she had no interpreter.

Jaslyne said with the help of Diane Archibald, principal of the School for the Deaf along with family and friends, her daughter was taught the secondary school curriculum used by children without disabilities, as the student waited for the right opportunity to sit in a secondary school classroom.

“If you know the child I am talking about, then you would know she has a brain on her. She kept saying she wanted to go secondary school … and study in Canada. She has had that dream since she was seven years old,” the mother said.

Jalenda enrolled in CHSS in January 2015, and after just two years and four months in secondary school, she was successful at several of the eight subjects she sat at the Caribbean Examination Council level.

The young woman aspires to become a police officer, however, because there are no provisions yet for Jalenda’s disability, her mom said that her daughter has placed that on the back burner for now, and plans to pursue studies in fashion designing and becoming a pastry chef.

Jalenda was fitted with a hearing aid, which allows her to hear sounds, but her mother said the graduate is not able to understand sounds. The mother said the implants that can give her daughter clarity in hearing is currently outside the family’s means.

She said that neither she nor her husband, Lenroy Richards, will be limiting Jalenda and they will be supporting their daughter’s dream.

The young graduate sang her school’s graduation song through sign language.

The ceremony coincided with the ongoing “I Am Able” conference being held in Antigua that seeks to improve the lives of persons living with disabilities.

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