Winning the Suffolk County level of the PTA Reflections art contest is only the latest triumph for East Islip sophomore Emely Rodriguez. Her photograph was one of two entries selected from East Islip on the county level, out of over 100 student participants district-wide for this year’s “Diversity Means…” theme. She will be presented with a certificate from the Suffolk Region PTA at the annual Reflections showcase this spring, and her work will continue to advance to be judged at the state and possibly national level.
Rodriguez, who is deaf, arrived in the United States at the age of eight, never having been in school before in the Dominican Republic. At the Cleary Elementary Program, she not only learned sign language, but was introduced to written English. Rodriguez began attending classes at East Islip Middle School in seventh grade and became part of the East Islip student body. At the high school, the Cleary School provides her with sign-language interpreters in her regular classes so that she can follow the instruction. Because Rodriguez lives in Montauk, she spends almost four hours every day traveling to and from school, but has found time to join both the East Islip yearbook team and girls track team. She has also participated in the Gallaudet University Academic Bowl, representing Cleary with four of her schoolmates.
The prize-winning photograph depicts two identical twin sisters, one of which is deaf, gesturing love for each other while at the beach. Her explanation noted that “As ‘I love you’ in sign language is the same as the in-heart hands symbol, the deaf sister is equal to the hearing sister. As they look at each other, it is like looking in a mirror.” Asked about the photo’s genesis, Rodriguez said through her interpreter, “I created it to demonstrate the difference between the hearing world and the deaf world.”
“Emely Rodriguez is an outstanding student,” said Cleary Secondary Program coordinator Richard Stelle. “Because Emely has learned that language is the key to her future, she is a voracious reader and always has a book in front of her face.” Whether in language or photography, Rodriguez has proven herself a talent.