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January 25, 2004

A good sign

From: South Florida Sun-Sentinel, FL - Jan 25, 2004

By Marcia Freidenreich
Special Correspondent

Not a word was spoken, but the enthusiasm was obvious as fingers flew and children giggled and gestured in response to the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff being told to them in American Sign Language by Jennifer Alon.

Alon, of North Miami Beach, told the story at the first session in a series of programs called Signing Stories @ Your Library, held at the South Regional/BCC Library in Pembroke Pines. The free workshops are funded by the Broward Public Library Foundation and BankAtlantic.

Alon, who is hearing impaired, is a deaf education teacher at Auburndale Elementary School in Miami. Her spirited rendition of the classic children's story brought hoots of laughter and looks of apprehension from the audience of deaf or hearing-impaired children.

Using sign language, Alon explained why she chose to participate in the workshop, which is for children up to age 12 and their parents. In addition to storytelling, there are workshops on the educational needs of deaf and hearing-impaired children, crafts and literacy activities.

"I hope that parents will see how important reading to kids is everyday, to help parents develop the specialized storytelling skills they will need, to realize that they should read to their children using ASL everyday and that they should learn to communicate with their children using ASL," Alon said.

Margaret Pashkin, of Plantation, watched the lively interaction between Alon and the children. Pashkin is youth services supervisor at the North Regional Library in Coconut Creek, which is designated as the Broward County library for people with disabilities. The library includes special resources such as videos for children and adults that include signing along with spoken dialogue.

"I hope the children take away from this workshop a love of reading and the feeling that their language, the language of ASL, is valid," Pashkin said. "I noticed when Jennifer was signing the story she continually asked, 'What do you think will happen next?' She does it constantly. That is a great learning tool for any child, hearing impaired or not, to get them to imagine what might happen next."

As the children enjoyed stories in one room, their parents were in the library auditorium learning techniques for telling stories to their deaf or hearing-impaired children.

"The program was great," said Ilonka Stull, of Kendall. "I got so much information and learned about resources available for me to help me deal with my daughter."

Stull's daughter Maria, 5, is hearing impaired.

"I got a lot of info about how to keep his attention span," said Kamar Lewis, of Sunrise, who attended the workshop with son Wallace Burrell, 4. "I'm going to get in there and really become the character when I read to him. He loves books, especially if they have lots of pictures."

Mayra Agostini, of Miami, attended the workshop with son Alexander Perez, 11, who is profoundly deaf.

"I got lots of information today," Agostini said. "I wish I would have known some of these things sooner, when my son was younger. From now on I'm going to be a better storyteller, so he can get much more from the stories."

Copyright © 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel