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January 29, 2003

Sign language program helps AE students learn diversity, understanding

From: Ada Herald, OH - 29 Jan 2003

January 29, 2003 - By LARRY D. SPRADLIN

Ada Herald Staff

LAFAYETTE - There are many different ways to teach understanding, and how to cope with the difficulty of living with what some people would call a handicap.

Allen East second graders have been participating in just such a long distance learning class with the School for the Deaf in Columbus, and have found it helps them in many ways.

Yesterday afternoon, Mary Ellen Gardina, the teacher who has been on the television screen from Columbus, made a special surprise appearance at the Allen East high school auditorium for the final class of the project. She was met by cheers of joy from the students.

According to Josephine Younkman, the technology coordinator at AE, half the second grade classes are being taught now, with the others set to begin in February.

"We are going to run the program again from February though April to give the remainder of the second grade the opportunity to experience this class," said Younkman.

"The students not only learn sign language, they experience a different culture and use the new skills they learn to help in other areas of their education. It helps those students who have auditory problems and they also learn their spelling better when they finger-sign the letters."

Peggy Bassitt, the teacher of one of the second grade classes, said it has been a worthwhile program.

"They not only learn about being deaf but just how it is different to live in a place such as Columbus," said Bassitt. "The students learn to sign much quicker than adults.

"They also learn the signs for different emotions and feelings," continued Bassitt. "The students have learned songs and how to communicate better."

She said the program has been good for her students.

"I'm a little sad my class has completed this program," said Bassitt. "This is an excellent program and I hope it continues."

The program is sponsored by the West Central Virtual Learning Center (WCVLC) of Allen County. AE is the first school in the county to take part in the program.

Linda Sakemiller, of the WCVLC, said this program is provided to the school at no additional cost to the student.

"The students don't have to pay to learn French or Spanish," said Sakemiller.

"They should be able to learn to sign at no cost other than maybe a book fee. Allen East has been very cooperative with the program and has made this a good experience."

Younkman said this program has helped more than just the second graders.

"We have incorporated the high school students in the program," said Younkman. "They set up the equipment and help make sure we have everything ready to get the feed from Columbus."

If the true judge of how the program works is the way the kids involved respond, then the excitement and enthusiasm of the second graders in the auditorium show that this program has been a great success.

© 2003 Ada Herald