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ASL Helps Students ‘See From a Global Perspective’

Gabe Vogt has no problem honing his sign language skills. It’s the ideal way, he said, to communicate with his older brother, Aden, who is hearing impaired.

The third-grader at Meadow Brook Elementary took advantage of a visit from Central High students who are in the school’s American Sign Language class. The high schoolers designed lesson plans for the visit aimed at introducing or improving signing skills.

“I’d like to do better at this,” Gabe said. “I’ll be able to talk with my brother better and understand what he needs. I want to know more about it.”

Forest Hills Central teacher Kimberly Williamson has been teaching sign language at the school for five years

Central High students divided four sections of the third-graders — about 100 students — among various work stations. Elementary students spent about 15 minutes in a vocabulary room, learning common terms; a “blind” room where they had to guess signed words by feel; a deaf room; and a “brown bear” room, where they learned the words for colors.

Meadow Brook teacher Amanda Dault, whose class had studied the life of Helen Keller, said few third-graders have been exposed to sign language unless it is used by a family member.

“The exposure to different types of communication and realizing there are people who benefit from this is important,” Dault said. “I think this helps kids see outside themselves, that they see (signing) from a global perspective.”

Popular Language Class

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, two to three of every 100 children are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears. About15 percent of adults report some level of hearing loss.

Sign language can be taken as a foreign language in the district’s high schools. Central High teacher Kimberly Williamson said ASL is the third-most popular foreign language class.

“Kids don’t know much about it, and people don’t understand that it really is a language,” Williamson said. “People think they’re just gestures. People are curious about this. Learning (about signing) will bring exposure to it.”

Forest Hills Central student Emily Toppen helps nearly 50 students at Meadow Brook Elementary with the basics of sign language

Central senior Kylie LaBeau, who helped develop lesson plans for the visit to Meadow Brook, said she and her classmates were eager to introduce third-graders to sign language.

“I’ve always thought it was elegant,” Kylie said. “By learning this, so many people can communicate — even if they don’t know it well.”

Junior Jillian Chamberlain said she was intrigued by the idea of putting what she’s learned in ASL to practical use.

“I love teaching it,” she said. “I’d like to be an interpreter some day, so it’s exciting to be here to teach.”


National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

American Sign Language

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