Student’s design earns top prize at School for the Deaf

Jody Kulchinsky (l.) of Sorenson Communications, a company that builds video phones for the deaf and hard of hearing, stands with the winners of a contest to design a new phone booth for the school: Artavia Goode (second l.-r.), Jaquelyn Lalescu, Shannon Williams, Ryan McNamara and grand prize winner Stephanie Talavera. Photo by Rebecca Henely
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A student from Jackson Heights’ Lexington School for the Deaf got to place calls to Borough President Helen Marshall and deaf actor Russell Harvard last week as a reward for designing the institution’s new videophone booth.

“I was so surprised someone told me I was the winner,” Stephanie Talavera, who is in the 12th-grade at Lexington, said through an American Sign Language interpreter. “And I’m really excited today.”

Lexington School for the Deaf, at 30th Avenue and 75th Street, has used videophones from the Salt Lake City-based company Sorenson Communications for the last five years, said school CEO Manuel Mosquera. In buying its latest videophone booth, the school decided to hold a contest for the students to create the videophone booth’s exterior.

“We wanted to come up with an opportunity to show off the creativeness of our students,” Mosquera said.

Talavera’s design incorporates many symbols of both the school and New York City. It includes the icon of the school’s mascots, the Lexington Bluejays, as well as replicas of the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. The design also features a “Big Apple,” which has the ASL symbol for “I love you” on it. Talavera’s name and the Sorenson logo can also be seen on the booth.

For winning the contest, Talavera received an iPad 2 and got to phone Marshall and Harvard, who had roles in the Paul Thomas Anderson film “There Will Be Blood” and the off-Broadway show “Tides.”

The booth includes a remote and a screen that shows images of both the signer and the deaf/hard-of-hearing person they are calling, or an ASL interpreter signing on behalf of the hearing person on the other line.

Ann Bardsley, spokeswoman for Sorenson, said a flashing light alerts deaf users that they are getting a call and a ringtone lets hearing users know they are getting a call from a deaf friend or relative.

“It empowers students to connect with their parents and friends and teachers,” Bardsley said.

When calling Marshall, Talavera was able to converse through an ASL interpreter whom she saw on video, but she signed to Harvard directly.

“I congratulate Stephanie on her winning art design and wish her every success following her upcoming graduation from Lexington School for the Deaf,” Marshall said in a statement about the call.

Julie Gelfand, spokeswoman for Lexington, said by calling both a hearing person and a deaf person, the calls were indicative of the school’s mission to build gaps between the deaf and the hearing world.

“It’s kind of a symbolic representation of that mission,” she said.

Runners-up for the contest included ninth-grader Ryan McNamara, 10th-grader Jackie Lalescu and 11th-graders Shannon Williams and Artavia Goode. They all received Kindle Fires.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 12:08 pm, June 11, 2012
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