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Fanwood Valedictorian Headed for Only Deaf College

After New York School for the Deaf valedictorian Isabella Albert graduates on Friday, she’ll head to Gallaudet Unversity in Washington D.C., the only college for deaf students in the world.

Albert, 17, doesn’t know what she wants to study. However, she has her eye on a specific career.

“I’d like to help the deaf community flourish and I want to make a difference within the deaf community,” said Albert, who lives in Peekskill with her hearing parents and deaf sister.

Albert was involved with the junior chapter of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) at the New York School for the Deaf, which is nicknamed Fanwood. She also played three varsity sports, devoured “the classics,” joined student government, and served as the class treasurer her senior year.

Her appreciation for language guided her towards second place in the poetry section of the national Marie Jean Phillips American Sign Language art competition last year.

“It was unbelievable,” said Albert. “There were 30 students from all over.”

Despite her active schedule, Albert has always minded her father’s advice to stay focused on school.

“I remember my dad saying you have to develop a passion for learning and if you do you’ll never stop growing,” said Albert, who learned American Sign Language in Fanwood's infant program. “It was very challenging for me to learn English because English was not my primary language, American Sign Language was.”

Albert’s mom uses gestures to communicate to Albert and her deaf sister. Their father spells out words in the air with his finger.

Most of Albert’s life was spent with a small group of her peers at Fanwood.

“We have a bond and everyone is from different backgrounds, so we learn from them,” said Albert. “It’s really cool to have that diversity...I’m going to miss being here a lot. I want to thank the school because I learned so much. They’ve made me strong and prepared me to go into the real world.”

Fanwood teacher Mary DiYanni , who met Albert when she was in preschool, said Albert’s leadership abilities have always stood out.

“She leads her fellow students on and off the field with enthusiasm, understanding, and encouragement and commands the full attention of all the students as she encourages them to participate fully,” DiYanni wrote in an email. “She possesses a natural flair for language and a facile grasp of concepts that enable her to convey her ideas with clarity and confidence.”

This article was written with the help of Arlene Rice, the director of communications at the New York School for the Deaf, who translated American Sign Language to English for the reporter.