IM this article to a friend!

October 11, 2005

The signs of the times

From: Daily Pilot - Costa Mesa,CA,USA - Oct 11, 2005

Woodland Elementary students take a course in sign language; some hope to learn to talk with deaf classmates.

By Michael Miller, Daily Pilot

It began like any other foreign language class -- with the most basic sentence in communication.

The students in room 12 at Woodland Elementary School took turns introducing themselves to the rest of the class: "My name is Kaitlyn," "My name is Laura," back and forth it went.

There was only one twist -- as the students spoke, the classroom was dead silent.

That was because rather than French or Spanish or Arabic, the children were learning to say their names in sign language.

It was only the second week of the after-school class at Woodland, but most of the students had learned the motions.

First, "my" -- a flat hand touched to the chest. Then, "name" -- two fingers tapping the other two fingers twice. Next, "is" -- a little finger touched to the chin, then brought forward.

The last part took the longest, as each student carefully worked through the letters of the alphabet to spell his or her name.

"They learn pretty quickly," said Kaiser Elementary teacher Caryn Broesamle, who leads the class at Woodland.

"I keep it to basics, although I do a type of sign language called Signing Exact English, where there's a sign for every word we use. When you sign 'running,' there's a word for 'run,' but then you have add the '-ing.'"

Broesamle's class, which is held every Tuesday at Woodland Elementary, gives students a seven-week workout in this relatively unknown language.

Few people speak sign language unless they have hearing-impaired friends or relatives -- although at Kaiser, which has 45 deaf students and serves as a magnet for seven districts, it's more commonplace.

"I've been wanting to learn it for a long time because my friends at my old school were deaf and hard-of-hearing," said Brittany Lambert, 11, who formerly attended Crown Valley Elementary in Laguna Niguel.

Others in the class took sign language more out of curiosity -- or to add to their linguistic skills. Roxy Wills, 10, said her mother and sister both know sign language, and that she took the class so she could speak in code with them.

Fittingly, then, the main lesson for Tuesday's class was creating terms of endearment. Having already taught the students to spell their names by hand, Broesamle asked them to invent more personalized symbols for themselves.

The children followed by taking their first initial and combining it with another sign or gesture.

When Emma Andranian, 5, said that she liked rainbows, Broesamle suggested forming an E with her fingers and waving it in an arch. Laura Mackenzie, 6, called herself an animal lover, so the teacher showed her the signs for "elephant," "dog" and other creatures.

Katelynne Dangl, 9, an avid reader, puzzled over her own symbol before she hit upon the idea of forming a K by her eye and opening her other hand like a book.

For Broesamle, who has had deaf students in her class, the sign-language course was an opportunity to expand students' horizons.

"I've been interested in learning it myself over the past few years, and I've used it in my regular classroom," she said. "It's a passion of mine to connect people to others with differences."

Copyright 2005 Daily Pilot