Signs of change: BV students teach sign language to community

Friday, November 4, 2016
Sarah Davis (left) and Adrienne Aguilera show first-graders how to sign their favorite color with American Sign Language Wednesday at Berryville Elementary School. (Photo by Kelby Newcomb/Carroll County News)

Two Berryville students are lending a helping hand to voice the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing members of the community.

Adrienne Aguilera and Sarah Davis are teaching American Sign Language (ASL) at different locations throughout Berryville this fall to increase exposure to the language and make it easier for deaf and hard-of-hearing residents to communicate with their friends and neighbors.

The two got some hands-on experience Wednesday when they gave an ASL lesson to Michelle Blevins' first grade class at Berryville Elementary School. Aguilera and Davis began with the basics, walking the students through the hand motions for greetings, emotions, pleasantries such as "Please" and "Thank you" and colors.

Aguilera explained that ASL does not always use all of the words that spoken language uses because talking with hands takes longer.

"So when you ask 'How are you?' in ASL you're only saying 'How you?' " she said.

The first-graders were excited to learn a new way to talk, especially when they got their turn to go to the front of the class and say what their favorite color is using ASL.

Aguilera said that young students are what inspired the project.

"I was on the bus signing the words to a song, and there were some first-graders sitting near me who were watching," she said. "It got me thinking about my cousin who has a friend that has a friend who gets bullied because she's deaf and signs to communicate."

Aguilera said she and Davis started researching the issue and found that 75 percent of deaf and hard-of-hearing students attend public schools. Davis said they decided that if they started teaching sign language to young children it might make public schools more accessible for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

"We can show them that signing isn't weird to do. It's just a new form of communication," she said.

Davis said she and Aguilera planned the outreach project as a STAR Event for Berryville's Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) chapter. STAR stands for Students Taking Action with Recognition, Davis said, and can be either chapter or individual projects that focus on leadership skills and career preparation.

"They are completely voluntary," she said. "We decided to focus ours on helping children be open to each other's differences."

Davis said she and Aguilera recently gave an ASL lesson at the Carroll County Senior Activity and Wellness Center. They are focusing on teaching both young students and senior citizens, she said, in order to close the age gap and help children communicate with older citizens who have developed hearing loss.

"There's sort of a generation gap. A lot of elderly people might be hard-of-hearing or unable to understand what children are saying," Davis said, "so if everyone learns how to sign to each other it could become a universal way of communication."

Aguilera agreed and said ASL is the most effective way for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to communicate.

"We spoke to one woman at the senior center who has a sister who is deaf, and she said their parents never taught her sister ASL because they thought she needed to learn how to read lips," she said. "But if people are talking too fast or are turned away where you can't see their lips, that doesn't work."

Aguilera said she and Davis are trying to reach as many people in the community as possible to normalize the use of ASL.

"Bullying is a big problem, and bullying might be a bigger problem for deaf and hard-of-hearing students," Aguilera said. "Making ASL known to every young student would be so much better because they would grow up knowing that it isn't weird, and they could talk with their classmates easier."

Aguilera and Davis will hold an American Sign Language course at 3:30 p.m. every Monday this November at the Berryville Library at 104 Spring St. Students do not have to attend every session, Aguilera said.

"Just come when you can," Aguilera said.

For more information call the library at 870-423-2323.

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