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Washington School for Deaf students embrace lessons from the tooth fairy

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 26, 2022

By Griffin Reilly The Columbian

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Kids typically get paid a visit from the tooth fairy in the nighttime, right?

Shattering stereotypes, the tooth fairy visited students at the Washington School for the Deaf in Vancouver on Tuesday – carrying with him a handful of lessons on proper dental hygiene.

The presentation is part of Delta Dental of Washington’s traveling Tooth Fairy Experience, a program that promotes proper brushing habits to students across the state in schools and community centers.

What made Tuesday’s presentation unique, however, was that it was done entirely in American Sign Language in order to accommodate the school’s students and staff – the majority of which are deaf or hard of hearing.

The tooth fairy, also known as Malcolm Reed, worked with fellow interpreter Rom Ngov, who is hard of hearing, to demonstrate how to brush and floss. The duo’s hyper-expressive faces and motions lit up the faces of the young students, who signed back and forth about their own teeth and how to best take care of them.

Those exaggerated motions, they said, are critical components of education in the deaf community.

One student showed to the group a gap left in his bottom teeth – proud evidence of his first missing canine. Another bragged he had already lost two. One girl said she had lost four – an awe-inspiring feat that silenced the crowd.

Though the students, who ranged from kindergartners to second-graders, were so young, they demonstrated their prowess at signing to the presenters and to each other in an orderly fashion, without interrupting one another or getting distracted.

Reed has worked as an interpreter since 2015 and is nationally certified on the registry of interpreters for the deaf.

“The goal here is to be a language model for these students. We used a lot of visual and tactile tools to facilitate it,” Reed said.

He and Ngov also walked students through a picture book, teaching lessons about how one boy practiced proper brushing and flossing so that he could be welcomed into the “clean teeth club.”

As the story went on, the students slowly inched closer to the storybook – each excitedly vying for a better view of the pictures.

April McArthur, the school’s elementary principal, shared that she was enthralled with the attention to detail that the presenters provided.

“It’s incredibly valuable and important to have these kinds of lessons taught in American Sign Language,” McArthur, who is deaf, signed. “I’m just so grateful that these students can have such an empowering experience at a young age.”

Tuesday’s presentation was interpreted into English to The Columbian with the help of Jonathan Robinson, a language interpreter at the Washington School for the Deaf.

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