Silent songs

Published 10:58 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sarah Bowyer, a junior in Lakeland High School’s American Sign Language club, shows kindergarteners in Bridget Dennis’ class the sign for “family” at a Christmas presentation the club did at Nansemond Parkway Elementary School Tuesday.

Lakeland students bring sign language to youngsters

It doesn’t take much to say “Merry Christmas,” but one group of Lakeland High School students doesn’t need to speak at all to send good tidings.

This week, Lakeland’s American Sign Language Club is visiting four elementary schools to sign them wishes for a happy holiday.

The group, composed of students from all levels of sign language classes, performed a variety of Christmas songs for the classes at Nansemond Parkway and Northern Shores elementary schools Tuesday, and members will perform at Florence Bowser and Southwestern elementary schools today.

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“We’ve done this for the past nine years,” ASL teacher Anita Fisher said. “It’s just a way to introduce American Sign Language to elementary kids and make them realize even though you are deaf, you can still enjoy Christmas songs.”

At Nansemond Parkway, the high schoolers signed along to songs, like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Silent Night,” as the elementary students watched intently.

Some of the younger children sung out loud while others tried to mimic the signs the older students were making.

“I enjoy doing this for the kids,” junior Jaylen Veal said. “Seeing their reactions makes me happy.”

Fisher said the students started practicing the songs in October to be ready for the Christmas presentations.

“We enjoy going to the elementary schools every year,” she said. “They work very hard, so they can present a beautiful performance.”

Fisher said every November, she has sent an email to all the elementary school principals in Suffolk to ask if they would like the club to visit, and she accepts invitations from the first four schools that get back to her.

“There are some schools that want us every year,” she said. “Most of the elementary schools really like it.”

During their performance, many of the high school students got the opportunity to perform solos.

Sara Stinard, a junior, signed “All I want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” while Theodore, from Alvin and the Chipmunks, sang, and she got a gleeful reaction from the audience at Nansemond Parkway.

“When he started singing, I just loved that all the kids shouted, “The Chipmunks,’” she said. “I think everyone loved it.”

At the end of the program, the high schoolers also taught the students and staff members how to sign the words to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

This year was the second time senior Kenya Smith performed in the Christmas presentation.

She said she thinks it’s important for elementary students to get exposure to ASL and better understand deafness.

“Sign language is mostly mistaken for something used with a disability,” Smith said. “And we want them to know ASL is a good way to increase your vocabulary and learn deaf culture.”