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January 24, 2005

Storyteller Performs for Students in Deaf Culture Club

From: The Ledger, FL - Jan 24, 2005

By Julia Crouse The Ledger

LAKELAND Shouting with his entire body, Jer Loudenback silently voiced the dismay of a baby bear who found a blonde, curly-haired burglar in his bed.

Loudenback, a deaf storyteller and actor, told the tale of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" through American Sign Language to about 45 captivated deaf students Friday at Southwest Middle School.

Deaf applause, like deaf speech, is visual.

After Loudenback was finished, all the kids threw their arms up, hands waving in the air and grins on their faces.

"When I imagine a story, I carry it in my head then sign it to you," Loudenback said to the students.

Lynn Woolsey filled in Loudenback's silent stories for the hearing audience with different voices for each character, exclamations and excitement that matched Loudenback's. Woolsey works with Loudenback in the Deaf Education Program at the University of North Florida.

About five times a year, Polk Schools invites its deaf and partially deaf children to participate in the Deaf Culture Club. The club gives the kids a chance to mingle with other deaf students and meet and learn from successful deaf adults, said Pamela Moore, who teaches a class of deaf students at Southwest Middle.

Of the nearly 80 deaf and hardof-hearing students in Polk County, Moore said about 60 regularly attend the club's events.

Four schools -- Alta Vista Elementary, Oscar J. Pope Elementary, Southwest Middle and Lakeland High School -- have self-contained classes for deaf students, she said. At schools without a deaf classroom, students usually are in regular classes with interpreters.

The club was started about 10 years ago as a way to get all the students in the county together. Moore said she tries to bring in deaf adults so the kids can see well-adjusted deaf role models.

In a world filled with sounds, deaf children don't see many deaf adults and hold onto the misconception that when they grow up, they'll hear, Loudenback said.

"Role models are so important to deaf children," he said. "I want to be a role model and want them to be able to identify with deaf people and develop a deaf identity."

He said he wanted to show the kids that the deaf language is different than the spoken word. Through story-telling, Loudenback told the students that he imagines what he wants to say in his head before signing it.

"I want them to learn the native language of deaf people," he said afterward. "It's OK to picture what you want to say instead of worrying about how to say each word."

In Southwest's library, the students' chatter never rose above a hum, but the air was filled with moving fingers and hands.

David McCann, 14, has been coming to culture events since he was in elementary school and has made many friends in the club, he said through Moore.

"Communication is a challenge," said the Lakeland High School freshman. "It's hard to talk to (hearing) students when they can't sign."

The youngest kids in the club look up to the high schoolers and learn best from them, said Maggie Reynolds, an interpreter at LHS.

"It's an opportunity to see they do have hope and they can do anything they want," she said.

Julia Crouse can be reached at or 863-802-7536.

Copyright 2004 The Ledger