Deaf Elgin teen aims to showcase possibilities over limitations in Bartlett High School musical

In Bartlett High School, musical Deaf Elgin teen aims to showcase all that he and others can do

Jon Thompson can't sing. He also can't hear without his cochlear implant.

But that's not stopping him from performing in Bartlett High School's production of "The Sound of Music." As the only deaf cast member in the musical, the freshman, who also has limited vision, hopes his small role makes a big impact.

"The fact that I'm in it means that you can do anything," said Thompson, who appears in a few scenes.

"I hope everyone could take a can-do attitude (from the show)," he said.

Thompson, 14, of Elgin, was born with an aggressive form of Usher's Syndrome, a rare disorder that affects sight and hearing. He is profoundly deaf, has limited peripheral vision and uses a cane to navigate the hallways and classrooms at school.

While some would see limitations, Thompson sees possibilities.

The teen got involved in Drama Club, where he found friends and fed his interest in theater. He plans to start a club for students interested in learning sign language - a move he hopes will eventually lead to the addition of American Sign Language classes to the school's offerings.

"It's an absolute joy just getting to work with positive influences like Jon," said Mike Miserendino, who teaches English and theater at Bartlett High School and is directing the musical.

That's not to say it's easy. Thompson said there are people who avoid him. And he knows his vision will continue to deteriorate.

Being transparent about the progression of his disease and focusing on positives ­- including a vision bucket list featuring places the family wants to visit ­- has helped.

"When it gets really overwhelming, he's able to step that down and say, 'OK, most of my world is pretty darn good,'" said his mother, Nicole Coover-Thompson. "I don't know how he does it. But when it does get hard he's very open with that as well."

Getting involved with the Drama Club has also helped him find his people in high school and share his love for the theater with others.

On Friday, students in Elgin Area Unit District 46's deaf and hard-of-hearing program, or DHH, were in the audience to see Thompson on stage during a school performance. It is the first time in at least a decade that a deaf student has been part of a high school musical, said teachers in the DHH program at Horizon Elementary School, which Thompson also attended. Two ASL interpreters sign for students at the play.

"It's very important that our students are exposed to all of this because it's important for them to see role models," said Veronica Hutchins, who teaches third- through sixth-grade DHH students at Horizon. "... A lot of times they have the mentality of 'I can't do this because of my limitations.'"

Thompson's mother admits there was a time when she herself couldn't imagine her son in a musical.

Through the years, however, deaf actors have left their mark in Hollywood and inspired others. Last year, Troy Kotsur, who starred in "CODA," became the first deaf man to win an Oscar. Marlee Matlin, who grew up in the suburbs and attended Arlington Heights' Hersey High School, made history in 1987 as the first deaf actor to win an Oscar.

"When you see that representation on TV or in books, that's a really big deal ... not only to kids who look like Jon, but it's a big deal to the parents of those kids," Coover-Thompson said.

Thompson said he doesn't plan to pursue a career in acting. He hopes to be a chef and one day have a Jewish deli featuring sandwiches from around the world.

But for now, he's excited to have people come to see the play and hopes that his small role can be a positive influence on someone.

Performances of "The Sound of Music" will be at noon and 7 p.m. Saturday at Bartlett High School. Tickets are $10 and available for purchase at the door.

  Jon Thompson, a freshman at Bartlett High School who is deaf, hopes being part of the high school's production of "The Sound of Music" inspires other students to see possibilities instead of limitations. Rick West/
  Jon Thompson, right, a freshman at Bartlett High School, said he got his love for theater at a young age when he saw "Phantom of the Opera." Rick West/
  Horizon Elementary School kindergartner Kimberly Jimenez watches intently during the Bartlett High School production of "The Sound of Music" Friday. She was one of 11 students from the deaf and hard-of-hearing program at Horizon Elementary School who attended the musical. Rick West/
  Jon Thompson waves as some of his former teachers applaud his entrance to a post-show lunch after his appearance Friday in the Bartlett High School production of "The Sound of Music." Rick West/
  Jon Thompson, a freshman at Bartlett High School who is deaf, poses for a photos with other students in the deaf and hard-of-hearing program in U-46 after his performance in the BHS production of "The Sound of Music." Rick West/
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