NTID student shares her love of teaching with the kids

Michelle Koplitz’s smile is as wide as the RIT pool, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday it rarely leaves her face. The engaging third-year biotechnology student offers half-hour lessons to children of faculty and staff members through RIT’s Learn to Swim program, and she quickly has become one of the program’s most requested instructors.

“Michelle is an excellent teacher,” says Erin Snyder, coordinator of the Learn to Swim program. “She is always smiling, and this often helps children who might be shy or hesitant to get in the water. Her outgoing personality helps her encourage the children, and she always demonstrates strokes and skills so that the kids can see what they’re about to learn.”

The former Academic All-American swimmer at Memorial High School in Eau Claire, Wis., chose RIT because of its mainstreamed environment and support services for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“I felt that with the number of deaf students on campus, hearing students and professors would be more comfortable with my hearing loss,” she explains. She uses interpreters and note takers in all of her classes and labs.

Koplitz changed majors after one year from chemistry to biotechnology, which she feels will open doors to a variety of careers, including nursing, pharmacology, genetic counseling, biological writing or research. She carries a solid grade point average in her program and has received both the Sara Kuhnert and NTID Vice Presidential scholarships.

Koplitz, who has held summer lifeguard jobs at camps and beaches in Minnesota and Wisconsin, thanks pool director Mike Cahill for “convincing the authorities” that she and three other deaf/hard-of-hearing students could handle lifeguarding duties at the RIT pool. Their only restriction is that they can not guard alone and, in Koplitz’s case, she always wears her hearing aids so that she can hear other guards’ whistles.

During one-on-one sessions with children, however, she removes both aids and relies instead on her residual hearing and speechreading skills.

One of her biggest fans is Ryan Wagner, 7, of Brighton, who has taken lessons from Koplitz for three quarters.

“I used to be afraid of the water,” he says. “But now I really like swimming. It’s a lot of fun with Michelle.”

“Ryan had never met anyone who was hard of hearing,” says Ryan’s mother, Laura Wagner. “He quickly learned not to talk to Michelle while her back was turned, and not to cover his mouth with his towel when speaking to her. Her personality is so warm that she immediately made Ryan feel at home, and he’s come a long, long way under her guidance. We hope to have her work with our other children too.”

When she’s not teaching, lifeguarding, reading or swimming her weekly laps, Koplitz works as an English peer tutor in the NTID Learning Center and enjoys rock climbing and bouldering at RIT’s Red Barn. She’s also an accomplished writer, and won honorable mention in a national essay contest when she was a senior in high school for a moving article about her younger sister, who is deaf.

“I don’t know what I want to do yet,” she admits, “but I feel that the strength of RIT’s biotechnology program will prepare me for what may come. Right now I have the perfect job—I love the kids, I love teaching, and I love the water.”

RIT News & Events, Apr. 20, 2006