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October 9, 2002

Students learn to talk with the hearing impaired

From:, VA
Oct. 9, 2002

Evening sign-language classes are offered for adults by Spotsylvania county teachers of the hearing-impaired

The Free Lance-Star

TWELVE-YEAR-OLD Kyle Humphrey and his 9-year- old sister, Sheree, enjoy playing sign-language games in the car with their mother, Robin.

All three are enrolled in evening sign-language courses offered at Salem Elementary School.

Robin Humphrey, who already has taken a sign-language course at the school, said she wanted to learn how to better converse with the hard-of-hearing clients she meets while working at Waite Furniture.

Although the family is learning for fun now, their continued interest could help alleviate the constant need for qualified sign-language professionals.

Arlene Van Horn, a preschool early-childhood special-education teacher at Salem Elementary, and Deborah Drolshagen, a teacher for the hearing-impaired at Thornburg Middle, organized the classes for that reason.

"Arlene and I wanted parents, friends, neighbors, teachers and bus drivers of our hearing-impaired students to be able to communicate with them," Drolshagen said.

Van Horn and Drolshagen also hope to lure students into professions teaching the hearing-impaired to help bolster hard-to-find certified sign-language and interpreter professionals for the schools.

In Spotsylvania County, the schools serve about 3,000 children with disabilities, which is about 14 percent of the total number of students, said Angie Nelly, supervisor of special education. Thirty-two of those are hearing-impaired.

The school has 10 interpreters, five sign-language assistants and five school-age teachers of the hearing-impaired in programs at Thornburg Middle and Courthouse Road Elementary schools, she said. Two of the teachers are intinerant teachers, serving hearing-impaired students who receive their education programs at various schools.

"It does seem like we're always recruiting interpreters," Nelly said, "but all students' needs are being met right now."

But the positions are hard to fill, said Nelly.

Learning to interpret is a long process that incorporates many skills, said Trish Haughn, who works for the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Students must first learn sign language and then learn to interpret, she said.

"It's a visual language, the eyebrows, the mouth, it's all part of the language."

The state has no way of knowing how many interpreters are available statewide because listing on the state Web site is voluntary, she said.

Drolshagen, who has taught hearing-impaired students for 30 years, will teach beginning sign-language classes every Tuesday evening through November.

During a class last Tuesday, she reviewed the American Sign Language motions for colors, numbers and words to describe the family.

In another classroom, Shelly Burgess, a hearing-impaired signing assistant at Thornburg Middle School, taught the second-level class.

Students who want advanced sign-language training may attend college courses at Germanna Community College, which offers a 15-hour career-studies certificate in American Sign Language.

Then, interested students may proceed with an interpreter course offered at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Drolshagen said.

"These [Salem Elementary] evening classes are a steppingstone to further training of sign-language interpreters, which are not only for the schools, but the deaf community needs as well."

Currently there are more than 7,864 deaf and hearing-impaired persons in Spotsylvania County, and 1,677 in Fredericksburg, according to statistics compiled by the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

The numbers are estimated based on the 2000 Census, said Trish Haughn, who educates people about the department's programs.

Copyright 2002, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co. of Fredericksburg, Va.