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Technology Helps Kentucky School for the Deaf Students Read to and Teach Hearing Youth in Danville

October 28, 2013
Source: Central Kentucky News

Taking off their student hats and putting on their teaching hats, high school students from the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) became “Reading Buddies” to area elementary students on Friday. The program helps expose the younger students to sign language.

Using iPads that read the story aloud, the high-schoolers then sign to the younger students, teaching them how to use American Sign Language to understand the book. Doing so requires the use of expressions and signing, as words between American Sign Language and spoken English do not match word-for-word, according to Heath McClain, language arts teacher at KSD.

After reading and signing the books, students sat and played a game, similar to the popular Chutes and Ladders, where the younger children had to make the appropriate sign when they landed on an image. The gameboards were created by the high school students to accompany the lesson.

Besides the obvious outcome of teaching the elementary students a few phrases in sign language, McClain said, it also instilled positive memories in the young children regarding individuals who are deaf or hearing-impaired, and the opportunity allowed the high school students to become more confident in communicating with the world beyond their school walls.

McClain explained that the deaf population constitutes about 1 percent of the nation’s overall population, making it essential that students from KSD learn to communicate with hearing individuals and that they become confident in doing so. The experience working with the younger children also enables the high school students to take part in their community, as Danville feels like home to many of the students, although only a few live in the city year-round.

“They feel that they are a part of Danville. They go eat at all the restaurants here, they play games against Burgin and Danville and others in sports, they go to CVS and they get their driver’s license here. They are a part of the Danville community,” McClain says of his students. Being able to partake in community service activities such as this are important to the KSD students.

While the KSD middle school students have been doing a similar project of visiting the KSD’s elementary school students to read with them, this is the first time KSD students have been able to branch into the other school systems in that way.

Obtaining a Teacher’s Tool Kit Grant from the Elmer’s glue company and from the Kids in Need Foundation, McClain explained, they were able to purchase the books and apps for the iPads that were used to read to the elementary students.

His group visited Toliver Elementary, where they read to third-grade students, while another group of high schoolers visited Woodlawn Elementary and read to students in first, second and third grades.

Laura Smith, one of the third-grade teachers at Toliver, said it was a great opportunity for her students. “I love that they are seeing someone who communicates differently, seeing that part of our community,” she said.

Smith believes that mixing with the students at KSD will instill in the third-graders the importance of being open to others and a sense of compassion for those around them. She also explained that her students had excitedly pointed out how they might now be able to speak with one of the school’s custodians, who is deaf.

Jack Williamson, who has worked at Toliver for 25 years as a custodian, visited the classroom while the high school students were there. He said it was an awesome experience for the Toliver students.

He shared that students at Toliver would often attempt to learn the alphabet or a few words in ASL, such as butterfly or hungry, in order to communicate with him, and this would help bridge that gap. By bringing students from the two schools and cultures together, Williamson said, it will develop greater communication skills all around, and he said it is simply wonderful for the students to interact with each other in this way.

While McClain noted that his students had initially been uncertain of the visit, they seemed to enjoy visiting the elementary school. “Our students were amazed at how fast these kids picked up on the signs,” he said.

McClain hopes future KSD high school students will be able to visit the schools, now that they have the technology to bridge the gaps.

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