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Student hears the call

Austin Rowley and Grants Pass freshman Kylee Smith, have already begun fundraising for the trip, which will cost about $700 per student.

Today, they'll hold a pasta-feed fundraiser from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Lions Sight & Hearing Center, 228 N. Holly St. in Medford. Tickets are $10 and include pasta, salad, garlic bread and desserts made by teachers from the Southern Oregon Education Service District. The ESD provides services to deaf and hard-of-hearing students in school districts around Southern Oregon.

Loa previously competed three times in regional competitions of the Academic Bowl, one of which was in Washington, D.C., in 2008, but this is her first time to go to the national competition, which will include more students — about 350 from around the country.

In order to give students exposure to a broader swatch of the deaf community, the Academic Bowl decided to do away with regional competitions and include more participants in a national competition.

The tournament is located at Gallaudet, which caters primarily to deaf and hard-of-hearing students, giving high-school students a glimpse into the lives of college students who share their disability.

"I feel more excited because in the last two to three years the competitions have been smaller," Loa says. "This year, there are 88 teams. It's more motivating and exciting. In the valley, there are very few deaf and hard-of-hearing students. There, I'll be able to socialize more and learn about the culture, as well."

Teams compete at least four times each day of the tournament, says Dale Balme, an itinerant ESD teacher for deaf and hard-of-hearing pupils. Those who advance will compete more than that, she says.

Erin Wasserman, an ESD teacher who is stationed at Crater High School, says about 98 percent of Academic Bowl participants nationwide go on to college.

Loa says she will be the first member of her family to graduate from high school and attend college.

"It's so emotional," Wasserman says. "When she first came to me she didn't recognize the importance of education. Her grades weren't hot. Now she's pulling all A's, and Maira is not an exception. It makes for very proud moments for teachers."

After graduation Loa plans to study art at Gallaudet and the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. She's considering going into graphic design or teaching art.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

Maira Loa, a student with Crater Academy of Health and Public Services, who is hearing disabled, helps to set up for a dinner to help raise funds for an academic competition in Washington, D.C. - Jamie Lusch