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March 18, 2005

Woman quietly interprets for deaf students in class

From: LaCrosse Tribune - LaCrosse,WI,USA - Mar 18, 2005

By LINDA McALPINE / La Crosse Tribune .

HOLMEN, Wis. — Gabrielle Grimes spends a big part of her day not saying a word — but talking just the same.

Grimes uses sign language and serves as interpreter for two first-grade students at Sand Lake Elementary School in Holmen.

"I first learned about sign language when I was in eighth grade said Grimes, 25, a native of Madison. "I loved it even then."

She didn't, however, initially intend to make it her career.

"I started in computer programming, but didn't like it and quit," she said.

After graduating from a two-year program in American sign language at North Central Technical College, she was offered the interpreter job at Sand Lake Elementary and moved to the area in August 2003.

That was the first year of the school's Deaf and Hard of Hearing program, Grimes said. The program is led by teacher Tracie Happel.

Grimes has been the interpreter for the same two students, both hard of hearing, since they were in kindergarten, and will follow them through the grades.

In class, Grimes stands close to the first-grade teacher, signing what is said.

"It can be difficult signing some rhyming words, like in songs that are fast," she said.

Grimes said a particular challenge arises when the class plays musical chairs.

"There is a lag for my two students as they wait for me to sign," she said.

Grimes also visits the other first-grade classroom to teach those students how to sign.

"It's so important for these kids to be able to communicate with their peers," she said of the two students she works with."The other kids have fun learning it, too."

Grimes said not every word spoken is signed. "You can do two or three words with one sign," she said.

Sign language is not universal — each country has its own form, Grimes said.

"Australian and English sign language is different in that it uses two hands, where American sign language is done with just one," Grimes said.

While taking a summer class at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., famous for its college programs geared for deaf and hard of hearing students, Grimes met someone from Turkey who taught her how to sign in his language.

"He taught me their alphabet and about 15 words," she said. "It was hard because it's two-handed."

Neal Janssen, Sand Lake principal, said the school is very fortunate to have the deaf and hard of hearing program.

"It provides our students an opportunity to experience diversity," he said.

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