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December 18, 2002

Silent appreciation: Students give sign of approval at play

From: The Stamford Advocate 18 Dec 2002

By Alison Damast Staff Writer

December 18, 2002

NORWALK -- At the conclusion of the Little Theatre for the Deaf's performance of Shel Silverstein's story "The Giving Tree" yesterday, the students sitting in the crowded gym at Marvin Elementary School broke out into applause.

But the room was virtually silent.

Most students showed their appreciation by raising their arms over their heads and shaking their fingers in the air.

The American Sign Language symbol for applause was one of seven words that the 540 students at Marvin had been taught in anticipation of a visit by the Hartford-based theater company.

By the end of the morning, the students had vastly expanded their sign-language vocabularies. The four members of the theater troupe -- three of whom are deaf -- taught the children how to sign 18 words, performed several classic children's stories and played interactive improvisational games.

The group, which is the children's theater wing of the National Theatre of the Deaf, also performed yesterday at Holy Spirit School, a parochial school in Stamford.

Introducing students to sign language and hearing-disabled individuals is important to parents and teachers at Marvin, said Nancy Wargo, parent enrichment coordinator of the Parent-Teacher Organization.

Some of the faculty, such as kindergarten teacher Gail McDonald, teach sign language in the classroom, Wargo said, while others incorporate stories about hearing-disabled people into the curriculum. Students also can watch American Sign Language videos in the library.

"We show children that there's another way to communicate," said Wargo, who tutored deaf students in college and has taught students several basic American Sign Language words. "There's a whole other language out there, and a whole other way of living."

Many in the audience, such as fourth-grader Lorena Sferlazza, said they were inspired by the actors' cheerful renditions of such classical tales as Arnold Lobel's "The Camel Dances" and Esphyr Slobodkina's "Caps for Sale."

"I like how they acted," Lorena said, "and how they did all the stuff in silence. I think it is amazing to do that."

Third-grader Susan Hatchman, who said she would like to one day become an American Sign Language teacher, agreed.

"I think it's neat because with sign language you can speak a great way just by using your hands," Susan said. "I learned mostly that you can do anything."

Many of the students had not encountered a deaf person before, fourth-grade teacher Diane Davenport said.

"The nice part of this is that it's another way to see people who are handicapped succeed in life," she said. "It's nice to see people with a handicap doing something meaningful in their life."

The troupe also was heartily received at Stamford's Holy Spirit School yesterday afternoon, principal Alfred Liotta said.

"The children were en-thralled," Liotta said. "It's a learning process for them because they're picking up some sign language while also being amused with the theater. They see that deaf people can do everything that hearing people can do."

Copyright © 2002, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.