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July 9, 2004

Class learns to talk -- silently

From: Port Clinton News Herald, OH - Jul 9, 2004

Sign language training under way in Danbury schools

By KATHERINE LENHART NH correspondent

DANBURY TOWNSHIP -- Libraries are often places of quiet learning. This summer, the Danbury Elementary School library is a place where enthusiastic children can learn the language of people who live in a silent world.

Jill Stephenson, a Danbury Special Education teacher, is holding a Basic Sign Language class for community children, ages 5-8.

The class covers American Sign Language vocabulary as opposed to sentence structure and grammar. However, Stephenson points out that while it's a basic course focused on teaching to children, anyone who is interested may sign up.

"I've had some adults who were interested in coming, and I said that's fine. Just realize, it's ... basic."

The class runs 9 to 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, June 22 through July 15. There is a one-time fee of $10 for materials used during the sessions.

The class was originally an informal gathering of friends, Stephenson said.

"We met at the park, and sometimes I'd have five kids, sometimes I'd have 25 kids and families. It was more informal ... I just invited people by word of mouth," said Stephenson. "But since I've been working at the school for three years here, I decided to see if they'd be interested in making it a little more formal."

Stephenson, 39, first became interested in sign language after sitting in on a class years ago. But it was her adoption of two children, who use sign language as a means of communication, that spurred Jill Stephenson's continued interest in learning and teaching sign language. Over the years, Stephenson has taken more than 15 different courses in ASL.

"It's a beautiful language and it's fun. It helps everybody, whether you have a disability or not," she said.

According to Stephenson, American Sign Language is either the third- or fourth-most common language in the country. It is estimated that ASL is used by almost 2 million people in the United States.

A survey by the Modern Language Association, an organization that promotes the study and teaching of language and literature, showed enrollment in sign language classes increased 433 percent between 1998 and 2003.

"I would love to see more and more schools, especially in big cities, using it as a second language," Stephenson said.

This summer, Jill Stephenson is helping pass along her knowledge of sign language to the youth of Danbury, and hopes that "it's something that, as they grow older, they'll pursue on their own."

For more information on the Basic Sign Language class, contact Jill Stephenson at 419-798-4846.

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