With some enthusiasm, second grader Joseph Nazerat takes down stormtroopers with his lightsaber.

With some enthusiasm, second grader Joseph Nazerat takes down stormtroopers with his lightsaber.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

In a classroom far, far away …

By: Maria Allard | Roseville-Eastpointe Eastsider | Published June 5, 2024

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ROSEVILLE — Darth Vader and the stormtroopers better watch out.

There is a group of local students who know how to use a lightsaber.

The force was with them May 17 when they knocked down statues of the movie antagonists, one at a time, during a “Star Wars” event in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program housed in Roseville Community Schools.

Teacher Natalie Grupido — wearing Yoda ears — threw a “Star Wars” party in which the students enjoyed various activities and games that were out of this world. They got lost in space pinning buns on the head of Princess Leia, threw beanbags through Jabba the Hutt’s mouth and tried not to drop the droid when carrying spoons.

The middle school students even made a piñata to resemble the Death Star. Grupido, who is deaf, is such a fan of the films she brought a Yoda doll with which the students shook hands.

When it was time to relax for a while, the students gathered to watch the cartoon “Star Wars: Young Jedi Adventures” with closed captions. Sign language interpreter Reyn Gilmore also signed the cartoon for them. The staff all wore black T-shirts that read, “The Deaf Star.”

Local “Star Wars” fan Ben Flanagan brought much of the memorabilia, including an R2-D2 figure. For first grader Lucas Rice, shooting hoops at the basketball net was the best part. Jayla Sneddon “liked all of it.”

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program, operated and funded through the Macomb Intermediate School District, is open to Macomb County students. The elementary program is held at Dort Elementary School in two classrooms and at Roseville Middle School in one classroom.

Grupido, who grew up in Roseville, attended the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program as a student. Speaking to the Eastsider through sign language interpreter Marta Crossley, Grupido shared information about the “Star Wars” party and the program. She centers the school year around a theme.

“Everyone sees each other. They can get out of their norms and just have fun,” Grupido said. “We have an event every spring. Last year we did Harry Potter, and next year we’ll do Marvel.”

If she had to describe the students in one word, she would pick “curious.” In 2022, Grupido was named as the Macomb County Middle School Teacher of the Year in a program organized through the Macomb Intermediate School District.

Grupido teaches using the American Sign Language and English bilingual philosophy, in which American Sign Language is used as direct instruction and English is in print.

“The point of this is to mentor learning and develop leadership skills. This is an opportunity for all of them to learn through interaction,” Grupido said. “They can learn a lot of social behavior.”

Students are placed in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program based on their individualized education program. The high school program is housed at Lakeview High School in St. Clair Shores.

“It’s a total communication program. It’s a regular classroom with the core curriculum,” said Teresa Tomala, Roseville Community Schools director of special education. “We use sign language and lip reading. Some students have hearing aids or cochlear implants. The degrees of hearing vary.”

The program provides training in listening, speaking, speech reading, signing and fingerspelling. Students are taught by teachers and aides who use sign language to teach and communicate with the students. The students, too, are enrolled in art, music and physical education classes. The students also attend regular education classes while in the program.