A special signing Santa came down from the North Pole on Tuesday to visit the children in the Regional Day School Program for the Deaf at Hillside.
Every year, the Hillside students visit Bassett Place to take pictures with Santa and sign their wish lists. This Santa is extraordinary, however, as he is fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), which the students are learning at school.
“This makes them feel included because they can see a Santa who knows their language,” said Carmen Castro-Toriano, the coordinator of the program. “They can express themselves and ask Santa for what they want without having to write it down or asking someone else to interpret.”
The students lined up and one by one sat on Santa’s lap asking for a variety of toys and goodies. Skateboards, bears, toy dogs, bikes and anything with unicorns were among the gifts the kids hoped to see under their tree this year.
“I told him I want an iPhone 11,” said fourth-grader Dillion Ramirez, who both speaks and signs. “It costs, like, $1,000.”
Genevieve Cordova’s request was much more modest but very specific: “I want a toy puppy that’s white with spots.”
When asked through an interpreter if they liked signing with Santa. The kids raised up their hands – giving the sign for applause.
“I liked it when he was signing,” fifth-grader Ayleen Rios said. “I told him I want a toy horse for Christmas… and a unicorn toy.”
After visiting Santa, the students are treated to a performance by their peers in the Hillside Singing Signing choir, which uses vocal and ASL talents. The students sang and signed holiday favorites including “Jingle Bells” and “Jingle Bell Rock.”
They wrapped up their performance with “Silent Night” – singing and signing the first verse and then ending the song only in ASL. The final verse gives the audience a glimpse of how they experience the song.
“It’s an amazing event,” Castro-Torino said. “Our kids look forward to it every year.”
She hopes that it inspires the RDSPD students’ hearing peers to learn sign language.
“If we can get those students who are hearing to learn another language – because that’s what ASL is – it can open doors for everyone and provide more opportunities to communicate with others and be able to help others as they grow up.”