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December 31, 2002

Rivier student develops kit for using ASL in class

From: Nashua Telegraph, NH - 31 Dec 2002

By LYNN TRYBA, Telegraph Staff

NASHUA – Katie Hanna couldn’t always get through to her daughter, Mary, while the girl was upset when she was younger. Her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and related language delays sometimes stood in the way of effective communication.

But Hanna eventually discovered a way to reach her daughter at such times.

When Mary became so frustrated that she couldn’t listen, Hanna would stop talking. Having regained her daughter’s attention, Hanna would use American Sign Language. Both she and Mary had learned basic signs to help them communicate with a friend’s hearing-impaired son.

The shift from verbal to physical language forced Mary to stop and look at what her mother was doing. In this way, Mary was better able to “hear” what was being said.

“When she was younger, sign language helped bridge the gap,” Hanna said. “It helped her calm down and communicate.”

Based on such successful experiences with her daughter, who is now 8, and her friend’s son, Hanna was moved to create a sign language kit to help fellow education majors at Rivier College learn how to integrate ASL into classroom settings.

The comprehensive kit includes lesson plans, books, articles, Web sites and simple activities, such as how to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing songs in sign language. Hanna bought some of the materials, such as the books, and donated the kit to Rivier’s Cho Educational Resource Center, where students and faculty in education programs as well as alumni can access it.

Creating the kit fulfilled the college’s service learning requirement for Hanna, who lives in Derry.

“All undergrads need a minimum of 20 hours of community service integrated with academic curriculum to connect course learning with a meaningful education experience,” said Darlene Nadeau, Rivier’s coordinator of service learning.

Hanna got the idea for the kit this fall while taking Introduction to Human Exceptionality, a course focused on the educational needs of children of all abilities, from the learning-impaired to gifted students.

From that class and her own experience, Hanna realized that sign language could enrich the learning experience for everyone.

Gifted children, for example, might learn to “finger spell” the ASL alphabet for extra credit. A teacher might sign certain words to convey concepts to special education students or those who learn kinesthetically. Hanna demonstrates this by signing the word “grow,” which entails the right fingers, pointing up, coming through a closed left hand and then spreading open as they emerge, like a plant bursting through soil.

“The teacher learns as the students do. It’s fun and can be used for everybody, from those with autism to the gifted and everyone in between,” Hanna said. “Anything that helps the special ed helps the regular ed.”

Hanna knows firsthand the value of incorporating sign language into the classroom.

As a student teacher, she has to line up elementary school students and make them wait before proceeding to activities. She now takes advantage of such moments by teaching them simple signs, such as the word for “wait,” which consists of wiggling the fingers of both hands, with one hand in front of the other. Now instead of pushing, laughing and creating mayhem, she said her students stand quietly in line, wiggling their fingers to show they are waiting.

“They have so much energy,” Hanna said.

This is Hanna’s second year at Rivier. The 39-year-old mother of four returned to school last year as a nontraditional student in pursuit of the bachelor’s degree she began working toward about two decades ago.

Hanna postponed her education when she began her family. In addition to her daughter, she has three teenage sons. With her degree, she hopes to become a special education teacher, and then earn a master’s degree and work as a principal.

Hanna said she faces three more years of school before she can get her bachelor’s degree, as not many of her old credits transferred.

Hanna’s kit is just one of the many community service projects designed and implemented by Rivier students since the school adopted the service learning requirement in 1996.

“There are unlimited possibilities for community service activities,” Nadeau said. “We try to take the students’ strengths, interests and passions and help them develop their ideas.”

Other students have worked at an after-school math program for teenage girls at Girls Inc., organized activities for homeless children at the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, tutored developmentally disabled adults and taught Internet skills to senior citizens.

The list is as varied as the student body.

“Students with personal interests are a real gift to the community,” Nadeau said.

Portions © 2003, Telegraph Publishing Company, Nashua, New Hampshire