Forest Grove elementary school student advocates for self, others
At only 10 years old, Jemma Bosotina is precociously adept at advocating for herself and anyone she thinks needs it.
Born partially deaf, she has a wealth of experience articulating her individual needs and explaining her disability to her peers and adults.
Bosotina frequently gives presentations in class about hearing loss, touching on subjects such as what it means to be deaf, the components of the ear, how her hearing aids work, and why she needs them. A student at Pacific University’s Early Learning Community, she even teaches her peers American Sign Language on a weekly basis.
In January, Bosotina visited the state capitol to lobby for more special education funding, which has remained stagnant for 20 years despite the student population increasing.
“She’s inspired a lot of people in our community,” said Lisa Bosotina, Jemma’s mom. “A lot of people in her life know it’s been a long journey to get where she needs to today.”
Jemma Bosotina developed many of her communication skills by working for the last five years with Carissa Martos, a teacher of people who are deaf or hard of hearing for the Northwest Regional Education Service District.
Martos said her student has made immense progress.
“She used to be very, very shy,” Martos said. “But as she’s gotten older, she’s come out of her shell.”
Like many children with hearing impairment, Martos said Bosotina avoided confrontation with others and was majorly self-conscious about how others would perceive her and her hearing loss.
But now, she’s advocating not only for herself but for others as well.
“She’s insistent that she gets to participate in things — without being disrespectful — but also wants to make sure everyone gets a chance to participate,” Martos said, adding that she’s constantly looking to make sure no one is left out. “She has an interest in improving other people’s lives and realities.”
Martos said Bosotina has also learned to embrace her disability, not hide it.
“She was struggling with people looking at her hearing aids at first,” Martos said. “Eventually, we started decorating them.”
When people tell her they’re sorry she’s hard of hearing, Bosotina reminds them that no one apologizes to tall people or people with green eyes.
“(She says), ‘There’s nothing wrong with me,” Martos said. “She wants people to see the world from her perspective.”
“It can be a struggle to make connections early on in childhood because kids often don’t have the patience to work with you, but Jemma doesn’t let that be an excuse anyone can use,” Martos said.
Even so, self-advocacy can be exhausting.
“A lot of times when I was very little, everyone would come up to me and ask what my hearing aids were, and I’d have to explain (repeatedly),” Jemma Bosotina said. “People still ask me what my hearing aids are for. It makes me feel like some kind of storyteller, but that’s why I have friends now. They can tell people for me and help me out.”
Overall, when faced with adversity, instead of letting frustration consume her, Bosotina starts problem-solving.
“There’s never a moment of being defeated,” Martos said. “She says, ‘Here’s the next plan.’”
“She’s made so many strides in life of her own volition,” Lisa Bosotina said.
Jemma Bosotina offered some advice to readers.
“Always be respectful to people who are deaf or hard of hearing,” she said. “Even if you don’t know the language, you should learn it in case you become deaf or have a child (who is deaf). You might need to know it.”
“There’s not a single school in Forest Grove that Jemma hasn’t educated (about the needs of deaf students),” Martos said, adding that she’s helped make the next student’s experience in the district easier. “She’s already made five years of impact. She has another 10 to go, but I know she’s going to do great at it.”