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September 7, 2004

Silent speech

From: Indianapolis Star, IN - Sept 7, 2004

School's sign language classes are packed with students learning to be expressive

By Lisa Renze-Rhodes
September 7, 2004

Normally, high school students will respond to a daily attendance roll call with "Here," or for those still waiting to wake up, a garbled, "Hmmm," might be all that emerges.

In Bryan Bush's classroom at Carmel High School, the calls for student attendance are met with silence.

That's because the roll is done without verbal communication, through American Sign Language.

A 1995 state law allows ASL classes to be taught as a foreign language in schools. Several Central Indiana districts such as Hamilton Southeastern, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson and Perry Township join Carmel in doing just that.

This is the first year the classes have been offered at Carmel High School, and the course is popular among students.

Bush teaches all six sections of the class where students are asked to speak only with the hand, face and body gestures that make up the ASL vocabulary.

So many high schoolers signed up -- 200 originally -- that the school had to cut enrollment back to 168 to make the schedule manageable for Bush.

The students enrolled for a variety of reasons.

"I've got a few neighbors who are deaf, and I've never been able to talk to them," said Zach Bell, 17.

Bush said others want an additional foreign language.

The 27-year-old teacher became involved with ASL through his older brother, who is deaf.

Bush said the language gave his brother, David Tomlinson, an opportunity to communicate with friends and loved ones.

That inspired Bush to pursue mastery of the language and to ultimately educate others in its practice.

One key, he said, is getting the students to let go of inhibitions and dive into ASL.

"It's more than just a sign," Bush tells his students. "That body language needs to be there.

"The hearing culture is less expressive. Within the deaf community, all of that is out the window because it's a visual language."

Bush said he spends as much time making sure students are learning the proper signs for words as he does encouraging them to do a bit of acting, in a way.

That's where some students excel.

"My friend and I have learned a little and we just want to get better," said Jenn Mayoras, 16.

The enthusiasm in his classes buoys Bush.

"This is very important to me," he said. "I'm very excited about this opportunity."

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