Her teachers say Erica Olson is smart, funny, well-rounded, friendly, and confident. She plays on her school basketball team, and she proved recently that she's the best speller at Como Park Elementary in St. Paul, Minn., where she's a 6th grader.
Erica won the school's spelling bee and title of 2000-01 champion last month after spelling her last word, "calendar."
But what makes Erica particularly stand out is that she does all of those things and is deaf. She attends a program for the deaf and hard of hearing at Como Park, but takes 60 percent of her classes in general education with hearing students.
Kelly Telech, one of Erica's teachers in the program, says the girl is "definitely equal in every academic and intellectual way" to other students.
"She's just a great kid," Ms. Telech said,
Erica went on last week to represent Como Park in the district spelling bee, where she was the only deaf competitor.
She was nervous, and the lights were in her eyes and she couldn't see off stage. That wouldn't be a problem for most students, but for a deaf child looking for her interpreter, it was. So Erica spoke up, asking the interpreter to move, her teacher said.
That kind of assertiveness, Ms. Telech added, is exactly the kind of confidence that teachers try to instill to help Erica communicate in a hearing world.
At the spelling bees, she was able to communicate through professional interpreters. They used American Sign Language to sign a word in a sentence, and she responded by signing the letters for the word.
Erica won her school bee by spelling words like "harmonica" and "delicious," as well as the prize-clinching "calendar."
Erica emphasized, through her teacher, that being deaf and using interpreters did not affect her ability to compete.
When asked about winning the school bee, she said she was shocked and "just didn't think [she] could win."
Vol. 20, Issue 20, Page 3