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March 4, 2005

Students find comprehension in silence

From: Lansing State Journal - Lansing,MI,USA - Mar 4, 2005

Ladywood HS club allows teen girls to hone signing skills

By Amy Kuras
Special to the State Journal

LIVONIA - One club at Livonia's Ladywood High School can conduct a meeting in full silence and still get a great deal of communicating done.

The Sign Language Club offers students an opportunity to sharpen their signing skills.

Students in the club have participated in Deaf Celebration Day, a biennial event focusing on deaf culture. They also attended a performance of "Les Miserables" interpreted in sign language to see how deaf people experience the arts. They also have interpreted songs at the school's winter and spring concerts.

"It's a unique skill to have for their future," said club adviser Jennifer Pegg, an English teacher at the all-girls Catholic school.

American Sign Language is not signed English or finger spelling - it is a separate language with its own grammar and vocabulary. English-reading and writing deaf people in other nations, such as Britain, would use their own country's sign language, not ASL. There is no universal sign language just as there is no universally used spoken language.

The club was formed after some students had taken sign language classes at Madonna University and wanted to continue using sign language. They approached Pegg, who is fluent in ASL.

None of the eight women in the club have deaf friends or relatives, and neither does Pegg. The students were interested in learning ASL because it's an interesting language and something that they could use in the business world or as interpreters, Pegg said.

The students also are seeking volunteer opportunities to use their ASL skills.

Ladywood juniors and seniors can take sign language courses at Madonna University. Students there can major in sign language, and a wide variety of courses is offered. Some students want to be interpreters, and others are pursuing health care or teaching degrees. Many, however, are interested in language and are drawn to the nature of ASL as its own linguistic entity, said Kenneth Rust, chairman of the Sign Language Studies Department at Madonna.

"The majority are hearing people who have a professional interest through their employment, or they are taking courses as part of a foreign language interest - they see it as a foreign language even though it's American Sign Language," he said.

Junior Katelin Bonk said she hopes to use sign language as she studies to become a teacher. She knew finger spelling before joining the club and has improved her skills through its activities. Bonk said she's been impressed by the skills of the interpreter.

"It's amazing how fast they sign," she said.

Part of the reason sign language has become such an extensive field of study at Madonna has always welcomed students with disabilities as a part of the mission of the order of Felician Sisters who founded the school, Rust said.

Madonna draws deaf students from all over the country because of that, and it's common to see students on campus with interpreters. In class, students will likely work with a deaf student at least once in their university careers.

Amy Kuras is a freelance writer.

Learning sign

• Many resources on the Internet teach more about American Sign Language or sign language studies. A good place to start is professor Kenneth Rust's Web site,, which features links to many sites dealing with sign language and deaf culture.

• Another site to see ASL being signed and learn a few vocabulary words is The site, complied by Michigan State University's speech communication department, has alphabetically arranged lists of words. Click on a word, and a video clip of a person signing that word comes on the screen.

• For information about sign language studies at Madonna, call the department at (734) 432-5616.

Copyright 2005 Lansing State Journal