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Tursi Manginelli and Callis hand out food
ASL interpreter Michele Tursi, left, signs to students to see what they want to eat, as teacher of the deaf Sarah Manginelli (center) and ASL interpreter Natalie Callis plate up during a Friendsgiving and flannels and flapjacks celebration at Intermediate South Nov. 23.

Nov. 23, 2022: Bill Fischer's special education classroom at Intermediate South is uniquely inclusive, and never more so than today, during a special Friendsgiving celebration.

"We have a lot to be thankful for in our classroom," said Sarah Manginelli, teacher of the deaf who, alongside ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters Natalie Callis and Michele Tursi, provides services to the class's 10 students, two of whom are deaf/hard of hearing. "Today we will celebrate it with our friends from Mrs. Ashkenis’s class."

Fischer's class serves students with intellectual disabilities in grades six, seven, and eight, two of whom graduated from Silver Bay Elementary's former d/Deaf and hard of hearing program. Fischer and Manginelli collaborate to integrate ASL and communication strategies throughout their daily routines and lessons. Their goal is to foster better relationships between hearing and D/HoH students.

Tursi and Callis teach ASL lessons every Friday. “It not only develops SEL (social emotional learning), but also a sense of identity and belonging for our students,” said Tursi.

Angela Ashkenis teaches her own class at Intermediate South which includes students with intellectual disabilities, and they often join Fischer's class for specials like gym and art, lunch, or-- and it doesn't get much more "special" than this-- Friendsgiving. This merging is an opportunity for both classes to develop social, communication, and friendship skills with peers. Some students are non-verbal or struggle to communicate verbally. Exposure to ASL provides another means of communication for them.

To that end, those involved in making events like today happen stress that being d/Deaf or hard of hearing is not just about hearing loss.

“There is a culture and a language that goes along with it, and we are excited to bring that culture here to Intermediate South,” Manginelli said. “We, as a team, are here to bridge the gap between the d/Deaf and hearing world. We are all in this together!”

And so it was, together, that students shared pancakes, homemade cinnamon rolls, and laughs. They even received a surprise visit from Debora Sheran's class which, when they entered the classroom, signed "Happy Thanksgiving" to their peers. Manginelli, Tursi, and Callis distributed food to students, signing to them to confirm what they wanted.

Gratitude was the overarching mood and theme of the classroom. Everywhere you looked, students and staff were saying or signing "thank you," and it was clearly a meal enjoyed by everyone in an extraordinarily inclusive setting. Friendsgiving lived up to its name.

love sign from Intermediate South
An Intermediate South student in Bill Fischer's class clearly loves her breakfast, as she makes the sign for love during a Friendsgiving event Wednesday.
the Tursis making pancakes

Michele Tursi recruited her husband Vincent to make pancakes for the event. He was happy to oblige, and students were even happier, as the hotcakes went, like, well ... hotcakes.

classroom kids sign happy Thanksgiving

Debora Sheran's students wish their friends in Bill Fischer and Angela Ashkenis's class a Happy Thanksgiving with ASL.