Sign of things to come

Gift of sign language books helps foster communication, learning among students

Julie Smith/News Tribune photo:  Jet Brewer takes a closer look at the wrapping paper to see that has sign language illustrations on it.
Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: Jet Brewer takes a closer look at the wrapping paper to see that has sign language illustrations on it.

A grant is making it possible for students in Cedar Hill Elementary's second-grade class to connect better with each other.

Second-grader Carter McKee has a rare genetic syndrome that results in hearing and vision loss. He can see in one eye and has auditory access through cochlear implants but does not speak and uses sign language expressively.

Carter has an interpreter at school, but his classmates have also expressed interest in learning sign language themselves.

"We've just had a lot of interest this year, with Carter, and students wanting to learn sign language," said school librarian Sarah Rosslan. In fact, there's been interest in sign language throughout the school, not just in second grade.

"My library books for sign language are always checked out," she said.

That's where Rosslan got the idea to apply for a grant to provide students with a book to help them learn sign language. Rosslan submitted the grant application days before the deadline, and on Monday, Rosslan announced the grant had been awarded and presented each child with a copy of "American Sign Language for Kids." The grant was made possible by donor Mid America Bank through the JC Schools Foundation, and the resource will impact more than 40 children.

"Today, I have a present for every second-grader to open," Rosslan said Monday to the second-graders circled around the pile of presents on the floor.

The students were able to guess from the sign language wrapping paper what the content of the packages would be. They each tore their gifts open excitedly and began thumbing through the pages and trying out a few of the signs.

"And here's the cool part, on Wednesday, when we have our sing-along, you're going to be standing up where you're at probably at the assembly, and you are going to be signing a song that you've been practicing," she said.

"Silent Night," the students replied. Then they all signed the first verse together.

The entire McKee family, including mom and dad, Amanda and Tom, and little sister Julia, showed up to join Carter as the students received their books.

"I feel like kids are naturally curious, and there's been a lot of interest in Carter from the whole school, but this year in particular has been different because there's a lot of staff that have really taken an interest in really fostering inclusive opportunities," Amanda McKee said. "So this is just, I think, another example of that -- of staff members kind of thinking outside the box, going above and beyond to really find ways to include him, but also help the kids develop those interests, and, who knows? Maybe some of these kids will be therapists or interpreters or whatever some day."

"If they don't have the opportunity of exposure to kids who are different, then they don't have the opportunity to develop those interests, and so it really takes adults who are comfortable with differences and thinking about how to purposefully include them," she said.

Carter loves to play outside and loves the pool. He is a happy kid, his mother said.

"He's kind of a little engineer. He likes to figure out how things work, take things apart, put them back together," she said.

Amanda McKee said she thought the gift of the books would lead to more positive interactions between Carter and his classmates.

"The more that he can have direct communication with someone as opposed to going through the interpreter, the better, right? The more authentic relationships can develop as well," she said.

Amanda McKee said this gives Carter an opportunity to help other students learn and grow.

Through Career Ladder, a program that provides compensation for extra teacher duties such as sponsorship of clubs and after-school activities, Rosslan will also offer an hour-long after-school program three times next semester for students to learn sign language.

There's also talk of starting an American Sign Language club if there appears to be a lot of interest in Rosslan's sessions.

  photo  Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: In support of their classmate, Carter McKee, second graders from Cedar Hill Elementary are learning sign language and are shown here signing the words to "Silent Night" which they'll perform later this week. McKee is deaf and has limited vision and is himself learning sign language along with his classmates. Through a grant from the Jefferson City Public Schools Foundation, each of the students received an illustrated book on sign language to have at school and take home.
  photo  Julie Smith/News Tribune photoDominic Almanza, left, and Jet Brewer took an immediate interest in the new book they had just received Monday during a presentation in the lirary at Cedar Hill Elementary School. All are in the second grade and are adding sign language to their repertoire to better communicate with classmate Carson McKee who is deaf and visually impaired. Through a grant from the Jefferson City Public Schools Foundation, each of the second grade students will receive an illustrated sign language book that is theirs to keep.
  photo  Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: Paxton Brewer started right away trying to learn how to sign different words by looking at the illustrations in the book he just received. Brewer attends Cedar Hills Elementary where he is in the second grade and part of a class learning how to converse using sign language.
  photo  Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: Carter McKee is shown with his daily support staff from Cedar Hill Elementary School. McKee is deaf and visually impaired so requires some assistance at school, which is served up by Sarah Rosslan, left, Shannon Mertens, back right, and Briawna Lytle, holding McKee. Rosslan is the school's librarian while Lytle is an intervener and Mertens serves as McKee's interpreter.

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