A second-grade deaf and hard of hearing student at Bernice Vossbeck Elementary didn’t have anyone to use sign language with in her class, so sign language interpreter Monica Lemming figured teachings other students in her grade the skill might prove helpful. She just didn’t expect so many to want to get in on the experience.
Lemming, who has worked as a certified educational sign language interpreter in the district since 2017, has been at BVE since 2019 and recently launched BVE’s Sign Language Club, meeting every Tuesday during the lunch recess in the library.
With only one other student in the entire school who knows sign language—a third grader uses it at home with deaf parents—Lemming says she expected her student’s closest friends would likely show up.
“I was completely surprised when 40 second-graders arrived the first day,” she says. The numbers have remained steady between 20 and 30 students each Tuesday, with the young students reporting it “fun and cool,” she says.
As part of the club, Lemming is teaching the students the alphabet and then a few words to correlate with each letter. For example, she teaches them the sign for “A” and then maybe the words alligator and apple. She’s also incorporating music from popular signing videos to help keep the younger students engaged.
“I am hoping to teach them that there are so many ways that someone can communicate and learning a new language is a way to promote inclusivity,” she says.
While Lemming is teaching just some of the basics of American Sign Language, which is not universal as many countries have their own sign language, it can give the students a foundational understanding if they want to go deeper and learn grammatical structure and language rules of ASL, which is close to the grammatical structure of sign language in Spanish.
“I am teaching them basic vocabulary signs and the alphabet in hoping that it will spark their interest in learning to sign,” she says. “I expect that they will use it with the deaf student to make her feel more comfortable and confident when using sign language.”