Vincent Roman was stuck on an island in the hearing-impaired program at Alonso High School.
With a mixture of special-education classes and mainstream courses, he wasn’t challenged enough. He was bored. He needed something different.
So he went from the inner circle of hearing-impaired students he had grown up with at Alonso to the only deaf student at his neighborhood school, Sickles High.
More than just surviving among a student body of nearly 2,100, Roman has excelled.
On May 31, he will walk across the stage to grasp his high school diploma just like everyone else. With a 4.4 weighted grade point average, he’s been accepted at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
He is one of six deaf or hearing-impaired students who will graduate from the 27 high schools in Hillsborough County. He is the only one who has been accepted into a four-year college.
“For a student to go this far with his degree of loss, it’s pretty unusual,” says Nancy Danner, a deaf and hard-of-hearing resource teacher for the school district.
“He is one who has surpassed all expectations,” she adds. “He’s a great role model.”
Deaf since birth, 19-year-old Roman hears no sound – not the chatter of other students in the hallways or even the starter’s pistol that signifies the beginning of a track or cross country race.
During Roman’s school day at Sickles, on Gunn Highway in northwestern Hillsborough, interpreter Diane Dunphy accompanies him to every class, every day.
She doesn’t go with him to the lunchroom.
During classes, she sits in a chair nearby, translating what the teacher is saying into sign language.
When honors physics teacher Jason Nartker tells students, “Clean everything off your desk; let’s get started” on a quiz, Dunphy is his ears. She is also his voice when it’s needed.
Nartker says math is one of Roman’s strong subjects and that makes physics easier for him. The teacher also said the teen’s deafness helps him concentrate during quizzes and tests. He can’t hear the whispers of a classmate, or someone coughing, or the sound of the classroom door opening.
“It doesn’t distract him,” Nartker says. “He’s very focused on his tests.”
And focused on his academic successes – even if that means taking classes such as advanced placement statistics or advanced placement calculus.
“I prefer a hard class,” Roman says. “It’s helped me to learn more and new things.”
When Roman has to work with another student on a project, they will use a phone to communicate and type text messages.
“He’s really, really smart,” says Jacoobi Rodriguez, who is in Roman’s physics class. “He’s really amazing.”
Roman has used his cell phone to communicate with his track coach, too.
“It’s been fun having him,” says Gail Bottone, who also is the college and career counselor at Sickles. “He’s been teaching us sign language. He taught me how to say ‘coach’ in sign language.”
Roman loved his time on the track team – the shot put and discus more than the running events.
“I like the part of a team that encourages you to keep going and to become better,” he says.
Part of that comes from his mother, Julia Michalka, who says she never allowed the words “I can’t” in her Citrus Park household.
“I have always believed that you can” she says. “I really want Vincent to be independent because I am not going to hold his hand. I want him to be the best that he can.”
And so does the teenager, too.
While he used to enjoy running track and cross country events, Roman transitioned to the shot put and discus this year in track.
He says that he sees a parallel between himself and the soaring discus.
“I’ve improved over the time I have done it,” he says as Dunphy translates. “The farther I can go, the more successful I am. It represents confidence in my future for me.”