Belleville West High School has welcomed a new club — the American Sign Language Club — supervised by Kelly York, a foreign language teacher who teaches French.
However, York does not know sign language herself. Two freshman students at West took the initiative to begin the club.
Kimberly Haguewood and Paige Burris, elected as president and vice president at the last meeting, are the ones who do all the teaching with some help and guidance from York.
“I try to help Kim and Paige with reviewing the signs to the other members just like I would with my students,” York said. “With my experience teaching a language, I help the other members by using the same strategies of repetition as I do in my classroom, but I’m along for the ride and excited to participate and learn for myself.”
Both Kimberly and Paige have known sign language since they were very young. Kimberly has parents who are deaf and has been learning sign language all her life. Paige has been learning sign language since she has been 18 months old and has a profound understanding of the language, because she herself is deaf.
“I am lucky enough to have the ability to talk and use sign language. I really look forward to teaching others sign language through the club,” Paige said.
The American Sign Language Club will be meeting twice a month. At each meeting, members will review the signs they had previously learned and add more signs and phrases.
So far the club has learned the alphabet, numbers, questions and basic objects. They’ve also learned how to sign the familiar “thank you” and “you’re welcome,” too. In addition, the club learned introductions and descriptions of family member.
“I think the club is really fun. I enjoy it and learn a lot each meeting. I cannot wait until we meet again” freshman Alana Wiechert said.
The Sign Language Club also practices by using an online program that will show pictures of people signing letters and the members will race and see who can figure out what word they are spelling the fastest.
At the club’s last meeting, the members elected officers including a publicity chair, junior Bethany Lockett, who will be in charge of taking pictures of the club and handling the social side of the club.
“I am really happy to be the publicity chair. It will be really fun taking pictures of our progress and letting others see what we achieve as we move forward,” Bethany said.
Some of the members of the sign language club already have some experience with sign language.
“When my little sister was a baby, they thought she was going to be deaf, and we had begun teaching her sign language, but she recovered and I still remember some of the signs. I hope to become a speech and language pathologist when I grow up,” freshman Stephanie Stock said.
Much success and progress is expected in the club’s future, along with more growth as the club is more exposed and becomes known.
York looks to increase the number of meetings in the future and begin earlier in the year as they continue in the coming years.
“I hope more people will get involved in our club, and we will see new faces coming each meeting,” Kimberly said.
Paige made sure to include an incentive for current members and future members to attend the meetings.
“Sign language is really beneficial to learn especially for kids because when a teacher tells you cannot talk, you can still sign to your friend and they will still understand you,” she said.
On a more serious note, Paige included reasons why sign language can be such a benefit for students.
“Learning sign language can open job opportunities for students who could become interpreters for people who are deaf who cannot read lips or have the ability to talk,” she said.
Other members found even more reasons to join the American Sign Language Club.
“There are a lot of people who are deaf, and it is pretty cool that you can communicate with them by using sign language. It also helps to spread awareness of the deaf community,” Kimberly said.