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January 31, 2003

Signing speaks volumes

From: Cincinnati Enquirer, OH - 31 Jan 2003

Now students can say 'Hey' like friends

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nathaniel Eubanks, 16, (right) is the only deaf student at SCPA, but now some classmates can talk to him using American Sign Language. Alaina Laumer, 18, (left) and Jonzzie Jones talk during a scenic design class.
(Glenn Hartong photo)

The sentence said a lot. And it wasn't even spoken out loud.

"I am learning sign language at my school," Ebony Hearn signed with deliberate hand movements, the first thing she ever said in her aunt's language.

Ebony, 15, a sophomore at Cincinnati's School for Creative and Performing Arts, learned American Sign Language at the school so she could communicate better with her hearing-impaired aunt. But after two years of intensive study, Hearn has discovered much more through signing.

"I've gotten to know a whole new culture," the Evanston teen said. "You never know how many deaf people are around until you speak their language."

Ebony's ASL fluency can be credited to a partnership between SCPA and the Cincinnati State Interpreter Trainer Program. The effort had such an impact that it was honored Thursday night during a ceremony at Paul Brown Stadium with an Inclusion Award for education.

Awards are given in five categories by the Inclusion Network, a nonprofit Cincinnati organization that promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities.

SCPA's program makes American Sign Language available as a foreign language option for students at the school serving grades 4-12. The classes fulfill the two-year foreign language requirement for graduation and count as college credit at Cincinnati State. It comes at a price of about $200 per student, reimbursed by the state.

The idea began with Pam Eubanks, 52, of Price Hill. As the mother of a deaf student, she was looking for ways to make communication easier for her child.

"My son was provided with an interpreter to deal with the classroom education-wise," she said. "But socially, being the only deaf kid in a school of 1,000 students, he wasn't making friendships that went deeper than the wave of a hand in the hall."

Eubanks applied for a state grant available to schools for ASL instruction The grant was awarded to SCPA at the beginning of the 2001-02 school year. The Cincinnati State Interpreting Program then provided teachers and interpreters to teach the classes.

ASL, the fourth-most used language in the United States, has a drastically different grammatical structure from spoken English. For example, in English someone might say, "Last week I washed my car." In ASL, that would be "Week-past, my car, I wash."

The 42-minute classes are taught at two levels, with a third level to be offered next school year. Class size is limited - about 20 students per class, though more have shown interest.

The ASL program has even spawned similar efforts at SCPA, such as offering English as a second language for Chinese-speaking students.

"When you start the thinking process, you see how it can apply to other situations," said principal Jeff Brokamp. "We applied the same philosophy for other students who were struggling with language problems."

Perhaps the best measure of the program's success is in how common sign language is at the school.

In a black shirt, cargo pants and slouchy gray knit cap, 16-year-old Nathaniel Eubanks blends in among the other teenagers who are building a set during a technical theatre class. He is distinguished only by deft, precise hand movements, which signal a chat between him and his interpreter. Occasionally, other students chime in with a few hand signs and a giggle.

"I used to have to write everything down to talk to people," he said. "But now people feel like it's OK to meet me and say hey and act normally as all friends do."

Through ASL, Nathaniel is developing relationships among people of similar interests and has developed more confidence.

"He's able to say, `I'm deaf and that's OK - and I'm proud of that,'" said Stephanie Stenger, 40, of Dent, his interpreter. "A lot of deaf kids don't have that."

But the true benefit, Nathaniel said, is that other students now have more empathy toward different kinds of people.

"I can understand how hearing people would have a hard time learning ASL, because it really is a foreign language," he said. "But now they can start to understand how I feel when I'm learning English.

"Now the tables are turned."


Copyright 1995-2003. The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper.