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Deaf student tackles the tuba

Band director Benson Cleverdon plays notes for profoundly deaf student Trenton Eash who feels the vibrations on a drum and sound box. - Seraine Page
Band director Benson Cleverdon plays notes for profoundly deaf student Trenton Eash who feels the vibrations on a drum and sound box.
— image credit: Seraine Page

There’s nothing that sixth grader Trenton Eash can’t do.

Once he puts his mind to it, the Woodlands Elementary student’s enthusiasm bursts, filling the room with his energy.

This year alone, Trenton made his way through attempting to learn several instruments— first the trumpet, next was the French horn, then the baritone, and now, as the school year comes to an end, he’s settled on the tuba.

There’s also something unique about Trenton’s passion to play: he can’t hear any of the sound he creates.

Trenton, 11, is profoundly deaf.

Still, he has the fervor of someone who has been playing for years.

“What impresses me most about Trenton is he’s completely uninhibited even though he’s profoundly deaf,” said Benson Cleverdon, Woodlands Elementary band director who provided lessons to Eash.

“He has enormous resilience,” he said. “He has such a passion to play an instrument. He’s a brilliant lad.”

According to the Center for Music Learning at the University of Texas at Austin, more than 12,000 babies are born each year with a hearing loss. The cause is often unknown, states the university’s website.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association finds that profound deafness — such as Trenton’s — occurs in four to 11 per 10,000 children. At least 50 percent of the time it can be contributed to genetic causes.

Sitting among his band peers, Trenton looks just like everyone else. That’s the idea of Kitsap Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program, a regional program in two Central Kitsap schools that offers accessibility and additional resources for students.

The program allows students like Trenton to be immersed into classroom learning experiences like band; the only difference is he is assigned to an interpreter to attend his extracurriculars with him.

Principal Jeff McCormick said the whole goal of the program is to help students feel included in everyday life at school.

“What I hope to see for all of our students is to fully participate in school — all parts of school,” he said.

McCormick believes placing students like Trenton into a classroom with hearing students “increases the empathy” that students feel toward their peers.

Not only is the program a cultural immersion, but it allows for students to recognize their sense of self, notes Woodlands teacher of the deaf, Erin Burmudez.

“I have seen Trenton’s confidence and passion for learning grow this year through his participation in band,” she said. “Trenton is an outgoing young man who strives to want to learn new things.”

Cleverdon and Trenton met for private lessons up until two weeks ago.

For the entire school year, twice a week, Trenton sat down for his 15-minute lesson in reading and playing music. While invigorating for him as a student, his instructor said he equally enjoyed the experience.

“It’s just been fantastically uplifting,” said Cleverdon. “It’s been just so enriching and such a privilege. It’s made me smile so much. I’m just looking forward to working with more hard of hearing and deaf students.”

Cleverdon, who hails from London, never worked with deaf students prior to coming to Woodlands. Upon his arrival, he decided to research and implement teaching methodology that would most benefit Trenton for playing along with a large music ensemble.

To ease into the lessons, Cleverdon created a special ‘sound box’ for Trenton to feel the vibrations from the instruments he played.

“I use some improvised teaching resources that include a bottomless five-sided homemade wooden ‘sound box’ with a thin plywood top and side vents,” he said.

The box helped Trenton feel frequencies through his feet as the plywood relayed the air vibrations from the instrument he plays.

Upon first feeling the vibrations under his foot, Trenton’s bright eyes grew large as he smiled and nodded that he could feel the movement. He giggled and signed to his interpreter that the notes “tickled.”

The band instructor knew it would not be without what he called “obvious challenges” to teach a band that included two hard of hearing students, a profoundly deaf student and an interpreter right at his side.

But Cleverdon wanted it to work, and that’s why he offered separate lessons, free of charge to the students to learn outside of a band setting, he said.

At the start of the school year, Trenton wanted to play the trumpet. Then he opted for the baritone as he could feel the vibrations better.

Then, Cleverdon said, Trenton wanted to go even bigger. He wanted to play the sousaphone, more commonly known as a tuba. The tuba, they discovered, had even lower notes that Trenton could feel through the box more easily.

To aid Trenton further, Cleverdon found an iPad tuner app that allowed Trenton to watch for when he hit the right notes. After a few months of working with Trenton, it was obvious the technology helped the most.

“The big breakthrough was when we started to use technology in instruction,” Cleverdon said.

Simple songs like “Hot Cross Buns” and “ Jingle Bells” were the start of Trenton’s lessons. By the end of the year, he took a more active part in the band, and recently starred as a guest player with the Ridgetop Junior High seventh grade cadet band.

Seeing Trenton in his red band uniform brought pride to his teachers, especially Burmudez.

“By being apart of this event, he was able to demonstrate his acquired knowledge and shine in his accomplishments,” said Burmudez. “Without these opportunities, Trenton may never have been able to experience this opportunity and its sense of fulfillment.”

While each practice improved upon Trenton’s musical knowledge, Cleverdon noted there’s always room to continue growing. It’s is Trenton’s hope that he can continue playing wherever he attends school next.

Throughout the year, it became obvious that Trenton refused to let his deafness define the activities he participated in.

Aside from trying his hand at playing instruments, he also worked as a regular safety patrol officer after school.

Every day after school this year, Trenton marched along with the rest of the safety patrol officers in their brightly colored vests out to one of the busiest intersections near the school. According to staff, he’s the first deaf student to ever participate in that role.

“He takes safety patrol very seriously,” said Woodlands interpreter Mariann Kirkland. “He’s always correcting kids if they’re not doing it right.”

It’s Trenton’s positive and ambitious attitude that will be missed around Woodlands next year as he advances to the next level of his education.

His teacher, Mrs. Burmudez, who knows American Sign Language, has known Trenton since kindergarten. He’s a student of hers who she will deeply miss next year when he heads off to his next school. The tender moments, like Trenton saying aloud, “I love you” are the memories she and other interpreters remember.

Burmudez teaches in a way that is loving yet strict. She knows that many of her students, like Trenton, are capable of being patient and learning new things. When Trenton tried to give up too easily on an assignment, Burmudez challenged him to try again.

In fact, to stay in safety patrol and band, Trenton had to keep his grades up.

“He’s grown by leaps and bounds,” she said of his knowledge within the classroom.

As for his desire to learn in a multitude of ways, Burmudez isn’t surprised.

“He’s got that motivation to try new things,” she said. “I like seeing professionals and individuals grow. That’s really what education is. It is so nice to see him do that challenge.”

 

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