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A double graduation, of sorts

Associated Press

FRUITLAND, Idaho — Most educators have hundreds of students in their careers. Jo Hicks had one.

Though Hicks is an interpreter for the deaf and not a teacher, she has been helping Tim Laddington attend school since he was 5.

Both of Hicks’ parents were deaf, and she met Laddington’s parents in a sign language class. They asked her to work with their son.

“I’d been working in Ontario, but Tim’s mom and his teacher and principal all wanted me to come to Fruitland,” she said.

Hicks accepted the offer, and began sitting beside Tim in class to make sure he understood his teachers and they understood him. They gave her his assignments in advance so she could learn any applicable signs she did not already know.

When Tim made the basketball team in middle school, Hicks translated the huddles. She stood beside the conductor in his band class to translate his words to Tim, who plays the cymbals.

But Tuesday – when now 17-year-old Tim graduates with honors from Fruitland High School – will be Hicks’ last day. She is retiring.

Tim is one of his class’s salutatorians. His grade point average is 3.98.

“I wanted to be the first mainstream deaf student to be valedictorian,” he said with Hicks interpreting. “I didn’t make it, but I was close.”

About half of the students in his class have been with him since kindergarten. Because of him, virtually all of his classmates have learned to sign.

“A lot of people would look at him and see a deaf person,” classmate Craig Gerdau said. “I look at him and see a normal kid with a hearing problem. And I’ve learned a whole new language from him. My mom learned to sign, too, so she could talk to him because we were friends.”

Gerdau has not decided where he wants to go to college. But he knows he wants to be an interpreter for the deaf in schools and courts.

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