Tripod - a Brief History

TRIPOD was founded in 1982 by Megan Williams, the mother of two young children- deaf and hearing-  to meet the complex educational needs of deaf children and their families.  Inspired by her own family’s experience, Megan developed the concept of a holistic learning environment where communication was no longer a barrier. The children’s father, film producer Michael Shamberg, enlisted the help of Hollywood to make the vision a reality. 

From inception, TRIPOD was fully inclusive with Deaf, hard of hearing and hearing individuals participating as members of the board of directors, as administrators, in the classroom as teachers and among students and their families.  At TRIPOD deaf parents with hearing children were as welcome as hearing parents with deaf children. 

With the support of two well-known educators of the deaf (Carl Kirchner from California State University, Northridge and Cindy Murphy from Gallaudet University, Washington D.C.) and with the help of community leaders and educational professionals, TRIPOD established a model educational program where deaf and hard-of-hearing children learn together with their hearing peers and siblings in a Total Communication setting.  In this natural environment, hearing children model English for deaf children and all children develop sign language skills together. The Montessori approach was chosen because it is child centered as opposed to teacher directed, and a Total Communication philosophy was followed. (TRIPOD recruited and paid for deaf teachers to acquire a Montessori teaching credential.)  Classes are team taught by regular and deaf education teachers who volunteer for the assignment.  To foster communication, hearing teachers who learn ASL receive bi-lingual pay. 

In February of 1984, with just four children, the first TRIPOD Montessori Preschool opened its doors in a small house in West Hollywood, California. In 1989 TIRPOD moved from a private school setting to a private/public program within the Burbank Unified School District. It wasn’t long before families moved into Burbank to enroll their children. Soon, ASL communication was common at local restaurants and events! The TRIPOD Model School Program grew grade by grade along with its first student, ultimately serving over 120 children from birth through high school in public school classrooms.

In June of 1998, seventeen years after TRIPOD's creation, the founding student graduated from Burbank High School along with his friends, both hearing and deaf. Today TRIPOD graduates are successful professionals; some of their hearing classmates have gone on to become professional interpreters.  The TRIPOD Model School Program is now recognized world-wide and is replicated in numerous public schools throughout the country.

Family Sign Program History
The ability of a family to communicate with their child is basic to their child's development. Deaf and hard-of-hearing children, 90% of whom are born to hearing parents, begin life with the tremendous barrier of not having a common language. A young child who fails to develop some language capabilities will be severely impaired in his/her ability to learn to read and write. Deaf children who have not acquired a linguistic system such as American Sign Language (ASL) and/or English, begin school with profound deprivation of language and learning skills.

It is not surprising then, that many deaf children perform far below grade level in school. TRIPOD's Family sign Language Program provided free in-home ASL classes to families new to the TRIPOD program, for 30 weeks during their first year of enrollment in TRIPOD. These classes were taught by Deaf adults who were often the first deaf individuals met by the family. Families were encouraged to invite extended family members and friends to participate in the class, at no cost. The instructors were generally deaf students enrolled in California State University, Northridge. In addition to the instruction which they provide, these young deaf people served as role models for the families. The curriculum was designed to be appropriate for families with very young deaf children. 

TRIPOD Captioned Films
TRIPOD Captioned Films (TCF) was a non-profit, community outreach project of the TRIPOD Model School Program in Burbank, California.  In the early 1980’s TCF was the only source for first run open-captioned feature films, TCF brought together Hollywood studios, national movie theatres and a captioned film audience of over 28 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans.

Box office hits “Dances With Wolves” “Titanic”, “Jurassic Park”  and “Star Wars: Episode 1-The Phantom Menace”  were among hundreds of films captioned.  TCF distributed over 50 films annually to 250 plus cities nationwide. Studios participating included Buena Vista Distribution, DreamWorks, MGM/UA, New Line Cinema, Paramount Pictures, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Brothers.

TRIPOD welcomed over one hundred visitors from around the world annually. Visitors included parents, teachers of the deaf, Special Education Directors, and State Superintendents.

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