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April 12, 2003

Students Learn Sign Language

From: Morning News, AR - Apr 12, 2003

By Jeff Smith

The Morning News/ ?

SPRINGDALE -- Michelle Doshier teaches her 1-year-old child sign language a few words at a time. So far, the child's learned four signs.

Doshier, Smith Elementary School principal, said she realized the importance of knowing the language. That's because she's charged with handling the Springdale School District's deaf elementary-age students.

The district has 10 students who are hearing impaired or deaf, with half of those enrolled at Smith, where regular students are also taught sign language.

Deaf educators and interpreters teach students and teachers who can hear a few signs so they can communicate with the hearing-impaired students, Doshier said.

But students often develop their own signs, said Cynthia Voss, Smith assistant principal.

"It's kind of funny actually to see them out on the playground using signs they made up," she said.

Both said they work hard to keep their students on grade level, a task made difficult when students often must learn new vocabulary words in both English and sign language.

Hearing-impaired students also spend much of their day in normal classrooms with interpreters who also act as classroom instructors. With the double duty, hearing-impaired students more easily integrate with regular students, the principals said.

Mary Wenkus-Delap, a deaf educator for three years and an interpreter for four, said people should feel easy about talking with hearing-impaired students.

"Deaf students are just the same as other students," she said.

She works with Mileena Geil's family in learning sign language.

Kitty Thompson, mother of the 7-year-old, said she appreciates the tutoring once a week. Her daughter's spinal meningitis caused the hearing loss, which restricts her only from playing organized sports, she said.

Geil said through her mother that being deaf is hard but didn't know why. But the energetic first-grader is far from shy. She confidently works a room much like a politician would, asking for names and introducing herself.

It's all part of the learning environment at Smith.

The Arkansas House of Representatives apparently also sees the value of that learning, voting 61-24 Thursday to allow students to take sign language as a foreign language. The Senate must also approve the bill.

"Sign language is the universal language," said Rep. Robert Jeffrey, D-Camden, during House debate on the sign-language bill.

© 2002 The Stephens Media Group