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April 3, 2004

Second-graders learn to sign letters, words

From: Hattiesburg American, MS - Apr 3, 2004

By Jamie O'Quinn
Special to the American

ABC. Can these letters be said differently? If you step into Valerie McKenzie's Oak Grove Lower Elementary classroom, the answer is clear to see.

This group of second- graders is learning the alphabet and a multitude of words using American Sign Language (ASL).

Since August, McKenzie has been using class down time to teach American Sign Language. Over the past few months, they have progressed to conversational words.

"Through teaching these kids sign language, I am trying to help them become more culturally diverse," McKenzie said. "I want them to know more forms of communication besides just speaking and writing."

McKenzie's own experience with signing came from having a close schoolmate who was deaf. Then three years ago after receiving ASL in-service training at school, she was inspired to incorporate it into her classroom setting.

In addition to standard ASL communication, McKenzie also created her own classroom signs. Students can raise their hands and make five different signals to convey messages to her without disturbing the whole class.

The students say they enjoy learning to sign.

"I think it's cool," Will Murphey said. "If someone who is deaf tries to tell me something, then I'd know what he's saying. I think it's just cool to know it."

"I agree," classmate Kiara Sims said. "Also, if I accidentally lost my hearing, then I'd be able to sign."

McKenzie adds that many of her students are able to go home and teach sign language to their siblings, parents and friends.

"By learning ASL, the kids own a unique skill that they are able to share with others" she said.

The class will continue to work on sign language for the remainder of this year and into the third grade as teacher and students loop together.

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