Students learn sign language through Baldwin school club
Lindsey Graney excitedly showed off videos of her “rockstar” students in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District where they shared details about the inner workings of the ear.
The videos, which featured students in the district who are deaf or hearing impaired during Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC's annual Cheers for Ears program, a weeklong fundraising and awareness event held each spring, are just one of the ways the students are taking center stage in the district.
Graney, a teacher of the deaf and hearing impaired, joined the Baldwin-Whitehall staff full-time in 2016-17, after servicing the district for several years through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. She works with 15 students who attend four of the district's five schools.
Most recently, she launched an American Sign Language (ASL) club at J.E. Harrison Middle School, where as many as 24 students stay after school one day a month to learn the basic sign language.
“There's a lot of sign in this district,” Graney said. “ASL is a language they can utilize in the district, with their peers. And there's a deaf community in Pittsburgh. They don't have to travel to another country to use it. We have a great opportunity here.”
Hearing impairments run the spectrum through the district — some students use cochlear implants to hear, while others use sign language as their main form of communication. There are four students in the district who have one-on-one sign language interpretation during the day.
“Baldwin has gotten to be known for having a great program for hearing loss,” Graney said.
Kids across the district always want to know more about sign language.
Graney on occasion will pop into a classroom to teach students a lesson in sign language.
“The kids love it,” she said.
Last summer, Graney taught American Sign Language to seven Baldwin-Whitehall students during the district's Highlander Summer Camp.
The program was so popular that students returned to school wanting to learn more.
That's how the American Sign Language club started at Harrison.
The first week, 24 students showed up.
During the once-a-month club meetings, Graney teaches students the basics of sign language from the ABCs to numbers to how to share their schedule with one other.
“Kids are intrigued by ASL,” she said.
When students miss a meeting, Graney will receive an email from mom or dad asking for her to send the lesson home so their child doesn't fall behind.
Students at Baldwin High School want a start a club next year.
Julia Murray is happy about the opportunity she and her classmates at Harrison have to learn sign language.
For Murray, 14, an eighth-grader, who is deaf and can hear only through the use of a cochlear implant, knowing sign language is especially important, she said.
She thinks about the possibility that her implant could stop working. If she knows sign language, she would at least still have a way to carry on a conversation.
“I just thought it would be a really good opportunity incase something happened,” Murray said. “There's a chance that something can happen.”
For her classmates, Murray, who was born deaf, is excited they will have know a language that will allow them to communicate with the deaf.
Even with a cochlear implant, Murray still struggles to hear when it's loud or a lot of people are talking in room. She relies on an FM system, which her teachers wear during class, to amplify lessons.
Murray, who learned a small amount of sign language in elementary school, said the new club at Harrison is refreshing things she once knew and teaching her new things.
“I just think it's a really good opportunity,” she said.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.