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November 16, 2003

Students show signs of learning language

From: Lawrence Journal World, KS - Nov 16, 2003

By Tim Carpenter, Journal-World
Sunday, November 16, 2003

Third-grader Mikayla Price is learning to speak without sound passing her lips.

In rapid succession during her evening sign-language class at Deerfield School, she moved through a series of expressive hand gestures to signify the words surprise, mad, shy and bored, as well as chicken, rabbit, monkey, giraffe, dog and, finally, gerbil.

The last critter was created by making a "G" with her fingers and rubbing the bridge of her nose.

"I like this class because if somebody can't hear, you can talk to them," Mikayla said.

She's among 22 Deerfield students who are studying SEE, or Signing Exact English, from Susie Stephenson, a Kansas University student in psychology and speech/language/hearing. She also works part-time at KU as a sign-language interpreter.

Stephenson offered to form the class in October, and response from students was strong enough to divide children into two classes. One section is for children through second grade, with the second section for older children.

"They've learned a lot," she said. "They can do full sentences."

She said she was aware of no other after-school class of its kind in the Lawrence district.

Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo Deerfield students Mikayla Price, a third-grader, left, and Hannah Fowler, a fourth-grader, play a game in their sign-language class. The Signing Exact English class was taught Thursday by Kansas University student Susie Stephenson.

SEE is a sign-language system that represents literal English. The idea is to make visible everything that can't be heard. Single gestures communicate whole words, and sentence sequence takes the same form as it would in regular English classes.

The other popular form of signing, American Sign Language or ASL, has a different vocabulary, idioms and syntax from English.

Stephenson teaches SEE because that's what she learned growing up in Goddard with a deaf older brother.

Now, Stephenson is passing her manner of speech on to eager Deerfield students. Most of the children indicated they would like to continue their study of sign language.

Stephenson starts each lesson by reviewing signs learned in previous sessions and adding a few new gestures. Students play a series of games to reinforce lessons. Thursday night, they enjoyed a "stump the student" contest and a team game that awarded points to players for signing complete sentences.

Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo A student practices in the Signing Exact English class at Deerfield School.

"To have games and activities, I'd say it's a common approach," she said.

Fifth-grader Raegan Roberts said she had an opportunity to sign with a person who was deaf. Unfortunately, she said, her counterpart's gestures were so rapid she could grasp only snippets of the conversation.

"I said, ‘Slow down. Slow down,'" Raegan said.

Emily and Casey Reno, sisters who are taking the class together, said they practiced their SEE skills recently while waiting for the dentist. It was a way to communicate without the risk of anyone eavesdropping.

"They wanted to know what we were saying," Emily said. "We didn't tell."

Copyright © 2003 The Lawrence Journal-World. All rights reserved.