Winning on and off the field with teamwork and technology

California School for the Deaf
Students at the California School for the Deaf learn both American Sign Language and English early in their lives.

The California School for the Deaf, Fremont (CSD) has a diverse fan base; it’s both a beacon for the Deaf community and an inspiration to millions of pro football enthusiasts. The school was founded in 1860, but most football fans first learned about it in early 2017. During commercial breaks in NFL playoff games, fans were introduced to the kick-ass CSD Eagles football team and how using a Microsoft® Surface® Pro 4 helps them play their best. The team was the focus of a Microsoft campaign celebrating the Eagles’ 10-1 championship season in 2016.

Response to the campaign has been phenomenal. “Our minds are blown!” says JAC Cook, community resources coordinator for CSD. “People are calling, families are inquiring about CSD; we’re getting more donations to the school. It makes people out in the [Deaf] community look in and be proud of our players. It’s ‘#empowering’—and it’s related to Deaf players, not disabled players. It’s a beautiful campaign.”

The #empowering tag reflects Microsoft’s commitment to empowering people and businesses. And CSD itself is a source of empowerment for its students and the Deaf community, so much so that alumni can be spotted by others simply by their attitude. Cook explains that they’re told, “’You’ve got that vibe about you, that aura that shows confidence!’ It’s how they take leadership, how they share their ideas, how they do their projects. We’ve got top students that are now very successful in the real world.”

Community spirit
There are 17,000 Deaf youth in California. Around 400 students attend CSD, Fremont’s 91-acre campus, and 250 students live on campus. They originate from as far north as the Oregon border and down to Bakersfield. Students from farther south attend CSD’s Riverside location. The school’s ethnic and socioeconomic diversity and graduation rates are very similar to California averages.

At CSD, students learn all the same content and skills they would at any other California K-12 public school, but with some notable exceptions. It’s an accredited school for the Deaf, so staff and students are bilingual, using American Sign Language (ASL) to interact and English to read and write. CSD serves students from birth through age 22 with age-appropriate programs, and it offers students the option to explore many careers.

“We’ve got top students that are now very successful in the real world.”

— JAC Cook, Community Resources Coordinator California School for the Deaf

One of the most striking aspects of the environment at CSD is its spirit. Not only does the whole school community wear school colors and garb every Thursday, but the campus is a magnet and source of pride for the Deaf community. The school is considered one of the best in the nation for Deaf students. CSD encourages student extracurricular life; hosts an ASL film festival, theatrical events and speakers; and imparts knowledge of Deaf history, politics, and culture to its students and visitors.

Naturally, school spirit extends to athletics, including the football team, and Microsoft is proud to have contributed to the Eagles’ success. Head coach Warren Keller reports that “The Surface has been an excellent tool for us to quickly diagram plays. It connects wirelessly with the projector for the team to study plays, film on themselves, and our opponent. We have used the Surface to film the game in real time and it helps us on the sideline to figure out adjustments. Microsoft tools have helped us raise the bar in our football program.” CSD students also use Surface Pros in their computer science and engineering courses.

Deaf students as young as 18 months and up to age 22 participate in the California School for the Deaf’s programs in Fremont.

Cheerleading and taking chances
CSD’s motto is Learn/Experience/Thrive and that’s what their students do. As in many environments, the source of CSD students’ success lies with expectations and exceptional people. Expectations are high, but are achievable. Teachers are highly qualified—more than 80 percent have master’s degrees and a Deaf credential. They strive to be better educators through professional development opportunities, and use technology to enhance classroom learning. Teachers and staff frequently have professional backgrounds in fields other than education, so they serve as models of real-life achievement.

Educational best practices are applied, like creating an environment in which students take the lead and learn as they work through multidisciplinary projects. Students are encouraged to risk making mistakes in the classroom, and by finding solutions the pupils develop confidence and become natural problem-solvers.

CSD’s path to student success begins early. From birth, parents of Deaf children can receive support from their local school districts, and children as young as 18 months participate in CSD’s Early Childhood Education program that emphasizes language play in ASL. CSD welcomes all Deaf students regardless of their hearing and language acquisition levels. However, data shows that CSD students that begin in that language-rich environment become fluently bilingual in ASL, compared with students who are not exposed to it early in life. Students who transfer to CSD tend to be behind in academic achievement, though the immersive, interactive environment of the school narrows the gap significantly over time.

Teachers and staff frequently have professional backgrounds in fields other than education, so they serve as models of real-life achievement.

CSD's programs align with California educational standards, and all students are bilingual in English and American Sign Language.

Encouraging experimentation is the basis for CSD’s standout career technology education (CTE) program. Beginning in eighth grade, all students are exposed to nine very different career fields, from biotechnology to woodworking, and auto body to engineering. Throughout high school, there are courses available to develop their interests and skills that align with state educational standards. Cook knows that CSD’s CTE program is an object of envy: “Oftentimes we do tours for hearing kids, and they are amazed; they say they wish they were Deaf and they could go to a school like this!”

Following high school graduation, CSD students have the option to continue full- or part-time in a Work Readiness program until age 22, even as they may be taking college courses. CSD offers various services to the students and their families to assist with the transition from high school to adulthood.

There’s a lot more to learn about CSD at the csdeagles.com website. If you’d like to make a donation, go on a campus tour, or set up an internship program for CSD students, contact JAC Cook at jcook@csdf-cde.ca.gov. To refer a family to CSD, contact Lilly Benedict at