It’s hard to imagine talking without using your words. But for members of the deaf community, it’s how they communicate about the world around them.
Every Wednesday about a dozen students at Mark Bills school give up their recess and that’s no small task for 5th graders. But, these students do it happily, as members of the school’s American Sign Language club.
Inside the library at Mark Bills School, class begins much like it does in any other classroom with the Pledge of Allegiance. But–they’re doing things a little differently, using American Sign Language to say the pledge.
“It’s like…it’s like they want to be like me.” 5th Grader, Rhemy Elsey, said.
Elsey was born almost completely deaf. A set of cochlear implants help him hear, but he relies heavily on sign language and his interpreter to communicate.
“It’s tough for a kid that has an interpreter. Following them around all day you know especially if the rest of the class can’t really communicate.” Elsey’s Sign Language Interpreter, Tammy Arvin, said.
“I wanted to be able to talk to Rhemy and I wanted to be able to communicate with him.” Classmate and founder of the sign language club, Dezyrae Clarke, said.
That’s how the American Sign Language Club was born. It’s a group of students who just wanted to be able to talk to a friend.
“I was thrilled that they were interested and that they wanted to learn some sign language and that they were taking some initiative to be able to communicate more effectively with one of their classmates.” Arvin said.
Unlike their Spanish or French classes, the students say they’re finding that there’s a lot that goes into learning this language and things aren’t always easy.
“Sometimes you really want to talk while you’re signing but then you have to get like used to just using your hands instead of your mouth to communicate with other people.” Club member, Tabria Smith, said.
But, they have a teacher in their friend, showing them that so much can be said without saying anything at all.
“It makes me feel like happy.” Elsey said.
“It’s fun to see them walk up to him and you know say ‘Hey how are you today?’, It’s really neat.” Arvin said.
Ms. Arvin says the students have made huge strides in the few months since the club was formed. Rhemy is able to talk to a lot more to his friends and classmates by himself.
Arvin explains that in deaf culture, a deaf person comes up with their own unique sign for each person’s name. Rhemy has already named many of those students.