Inside the parent engagement room at Hillside Elementary School a few parents gathered to hone their skills in sign language. They reviewed common signs for foods and a rather important word to remember: coffee.
The parents, who are among the 35 families with children enrolled in the Regional Day School for the Deaf at Hillside, smiled as they motioned coffee – which uses both hands together to look like an old coffee grinder with the top hand making a cranking motion.
Teaching sign language to parents and the community has become extension of the service they provide to support the education and culture of the deaf community.
Free sign language classes are offered at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays in the Hillside cafeteria.
“We’ve been providing the free sign language class for over 20 years here in our community,” said Jason Lilly, Regional Day School coordinator. “You have people that may have lost their hearing that are attending the class to learn sign language for themselves. We have parents, aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters that come to the class because they have a family member who’s deaf or hard of hearing. Some come just because they want to learn sign language.”
April Finlay wants to become more proficient in signing to help her daughter Ashley, who is new at the Hillside the Regional Day School for the Deaf.
“I want to be able to stay ahead of my daughter in learning sign language,” said the mother of the 3-year-old student. “I’ve heard that like if you don’t start taking sign language classes, that your kids will surpass you and then you’re going to fall back on ways to communicate. She wears hearing aids but if the hearing aids go out, I want another way to communicate with her.”
Finlay’s in-laws also are deaf, which gives her another reason to learn sign language.
“I think it’s fascinating to learn another language,” she said. “I want to keep learning more languages and this is one of them.”
Nearly 80 families are part of the Regional Day School for the Deaf at four campuses, Hillside and Bonham elementary schools, Ross Middle and Burges High.
Lilly encourages parents and other family members to join the free hour-long class, which is offered for both intermediate and beginners. The drop-in classes are free and participants can attend the Monday classes at their leisure.
“The language does progress and builds on itself so consistency is important,” Lilly said. “It’s so important for their families to learn sign language for their child’s development. Think about all the things that happen outside of school and all the language that occurs at home and out in the community. If that grandparents or other family member signs, then it gives that child a better chance of really understanding what’s going on.”
Finlay has enjoyed learning sign language simultaneously with her young daughter.
“It’s just been such an eye opener and it’s opened a lot of doors for my daughter,” she said. “Sign language has actually given words meaning to her. I see that her speech is developing along with the sign language. I want to keep up with her, to be able to keep that communication going.”
For more information on the American Sign Language classes for adults, please contact the Regional Day School Program for the Deaf at EPISD at 915-230-2842 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org