Signing classes benefit community

Published 8:33 pm Monday, November 15, 2010

JaStorie Moon attends an American Sign Language class with her aunt, Felicia Solomon, last Tuesday night. The classes are hosted by Suffolk Public Schools special education teachers to benefit teachers, families and the community.

Students learn foreign languages in classes during their academic careers, but there are some students in their own classrooms with whom they cannot communicate.

Suffolk Public Schools sponsors regular sign language classes to help bridge the gap between students, teachers, community members and families and those who use American Sign Language to communicate.

“Our goal is to help people who work with people with hearing loss or people who use sign language to communicate,” said Renee Goetsch, early childhood special education teacher. “We want to help parents and teachers have a conversation with their child or student. You can’t have a relationship with someone if you can’t communicate with them.”

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Goetsch and Holly Boyce teach the monthly class at King’s Fork Middle School at 6:30 p.m. every second Tuesday of the month. It is free to the public.

Students in the class learn how to communicate using American Sign Language and how to properly communicate through an interpreter.

The program was put in place five years ago and attracts anywhere from four to 50 people a class.

“There have been months where I’ve had one person come out,” Goetsch said. “It goes up and down. We have regulars who come every month and we get new people, too. We’re always happy to have anyone who wants to make the effort, though.”

Teachers who have students who use sign language in their classroom frequently use the class as a resource to learn to directly communicate with their students.

“We do a lot of writing back and forth and have to use an interpreter most of the time,” said Debra Shapiro, a teacher at King’s Fork Middle School who has two students who are deaf in her classes. “I want to be able to say ‘thank you’ to my students and let them know that she’s special. I want to be able to tell the young man in my class who is going to see his dad for his birthday to ‘have a good trip.’”

Bus drivers, parents and other community members also use the class to learn how to communicate with others in their lives.

“If you’re a child in a school and no one can communicate with you, it can build self-esteem to have conversations and relationships with others,” Goetsch said. “Otherwise, you don’t feel you’re a part of it. We’ve had some parents say they couldn’t say ‘how was your day at school?’ We just want to give people the ability to make them feel a part of the family and other activities.”

For more information about the classes, call 925-5785.