Print Parents learn to listen and speak with their hands
Written by Greg Ruland   
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 00:00

A handful of educators, parents and grandparents gather in the auto shop at Mingus Union High School on Monday nights to learn the language and culture of the deaf.

Sign language teacher Lisa Franklin, left, signs with student Dale Williams during class at Mingus Union High School on Monday, Nov. 29. The six-week class, which will repeat in the spring, was free to educators and relatives of deaf students in the Verde Valley.The six-week course, sponsored by the North Central Regional Cooperative of the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind, provides free training to those who want to pick up their hands and communicate with the children in their care.

For Sofia Rodriguez, the class is making it possible for her to converse with her 8-year-old deaf grandson.

For Nancy Erickson, principal at Dr. Daniel Bright Elementary School, the class is giving her tools to teach students, two of whom are hard of hearing.

There are only 13 profoundly deaf or hard-of-hearing students in the Mingus Union High and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts, according to Lisa Franklin, who teaches the sign language course with the assistance of Stephanie Schultz.

Frequently, these students find themselves alone and stranded in a sea of people who speak their own language and relate in ways that excludes them. Role models are rare, just as friends can be hard to find. Always the obstacle is communication.

The deaf are incredibly social within their own element. Get two deaf people who know sign language together and the conversation can go on for hours, Franklin said.

Because the community of deaf people is relatively small, they often know the same people, even though they may come from distant geographic locations.

Stephanie Shultz, right, works with sign language student Sofia Rodriguez during a class at Mingus Union High School on Monday, Nov. 29. “They want to know three things,” Franklin said. “They want to know your name. They want to know where you were born and raised and they want to know where you went to school.”

Consequently, part of the lesson Monday, Nov. 29, required students to stand before their classmates and spell out their name using the American Sign Language alphabet, then use sign and the alphabet to explain where they grew up.

Key to the teaching Monday was understanding that even though you may know few signs, it is still possible to communicate.

The deaf, almost always thrilled to see someone trying to communicate in their language, will adjust their skills down to accommodate the novice signer.

Sonny Rodriguez, Sofia’s husband, said he has seen his grandson actually do this. He is just happy about his grandparents’ efforts, Rodriguez said.

“It’s really made a huge difference in his life,” Sofia Rodriguez said. “He’s grown so much since we started to learn his language.”

“Don’t be afraid to pick up your hands and try,” Franklin said. “They will really be grateful.”

Franklin said she expects to offer another free sign language class starting in the spring.

In addition to Mingus Union High and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts, Camp Verde Unified and Sedona-Oak Creek school districts are members of the North Central Regional Cooperative. For more information, call (928) 774-0655.