About 30 Hambright Elementary School students meet after school every Wednesday to learn a new language, with the goal of breaking down communication barriers with people who are different than themselves. But, the members of this club aren’t learning a traditional foreign language. They’re studying American Sign Language and Signed English under the direction of teacher Lorien Gilbert.
Gilbert started the club to give students an opportunity to connect with hearing-impaired individuals who often feel ostracized. She is assisted by the school’s librarian, Tara Etzweiler, and Nasy Sok, an aide at Hambright whose two daughters, Jessica and Soksopia, are in the club.
She also got a boost from Penn Manor Education Foundation, which awarded her a $300 Venture Grant to purchase materials for the club.
Members include fifth- and sixth-graders, along with a third-grader whose father is hearing impaired. Students use flash cards and sign language textbooks to learn vocabulary, verbs, grammar and expression.
The students learned to sign the song “We’re Going to Be Friends,” which they performed during a recent school assembly. They also watched a presentation about a deaf poet, and they plan to Skype with their peers in a deaf education class run by Intermediate Unit 13.
“We thought it would be fun for my hearing students to meet some deaf kids who can be the experts,” said Gilbert.
Madalyn Kreider, a sixth-grade member of the club, said she likes “being part of a little group in school” that’s learning something completely new.
“It’s really cool to find out about this. Now, if you run into someone who’s deaf, you can talk to them,” she said.
Gilbert said that is the main goal of the club – for students to connect with others with whom they would not normally communicate.