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June 6, 2006

Sign-language club has things well in hand

From: Salem Statesman Journal - Salem,OR,USA - Jun 6, 2006

American Sign Language students learn social skills, too

Special to the Statesman Journal
June 6, 2006

When Laurie Hatfield interviewed for the American Sign Language teaching position at Sprague, she told interviewers that one of her goals was to create an ASL club at the school. In October 2005, that goal was achieved.

The program began as a way for deaf students to interact with students learning ASL. It has had a positive impact on the school's environment by making deaf students more comfortable around hearing students and breaking the language barrier. It also has made Sprague a magnet for deaf students -- many deaf and hard-of-hearing students split school time between Sprague and the Oregon School for the Deaf.

"Language shouldn't be a barrier; it should be an avenue for good communication," said Kelsey Edwards, an interpreter at Sprague.

Students who participate in the ASL Club are met with friendly peers and cookies.

"We just have a lot of fun," adviser Laurie Hatfield said.

Still, there's more than fun, there is the opportunity for hearing and deaf students to learn from each other. Students learn such cultural rules as the propriety of signing while talking when a deaf person is in the room, or signing first, then talking. The club gives students a chance to apply their skills from ASL class and practice the language in the presence of a deaf student. Deaf students learn to be comfortable with others with increased interaction.

The ASL Club is unique to the school in many ways. It highlights diversity and ways to bridge it, and Sprague students discover what they learn in school really can be applied to the world outside school walls. They learn there's nothing scary about deaf students; it just takes a little bit more work to get to know them. The club offers a way to broaden relationships and friendships.

The ASL Club also offers a way for students to learn visually if it is harder to learn an auditory language, such as Spanish or French.

"There are many languages out there. You should learn one that will benefit you and your community," Edwards said.

ASL author Trudy Suggs, said that the language is the third most commonly used in the U.S. behind English and Spanish. It also allows babies and young children in developmental stages to communicate with parents and siblings.

American Sign Language is used in the United States and Canada. It often is used alongside indigenous sign languages in Mexico, as well as the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Chad, Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Mauritania, Kenya, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe, according to

The ASL Club meets on the first and third Thursdays of every month. Students and staff members are welcome.

Karen S. Kleinman is a freshman at Sprague High School. She may be contacted through Eileen DiCicco at