Keyf Bashir, 13, an eighth-grader at Freedom Middle School, couldn’t talk to her 15-year-old cousin who is hearing impaired.
“Sometimes I would like to talk to her, but she wouldn’t understand what I was saying,” Keyf said.
That was before Keyf joined the Sign Language Club, with more than 100 members, at Freedom Middle.
Now things are different with Keyf, who has been signing for two years, and her cousin.
“We just talk,” Keyf said about her weekly visits with her cousin. “And sometimes she corrects me when I say something wrong.”
The Sign Language Club, in its second year, was started by Alexa Ann Reha Wilson, the school’s head sign language interpreter.
“I started the club because I’m extremely passionate about my job,” Wilson said. “I wanted to share that love and passion I have for sign language with other students.”
Each Thursday before school starts, the club members learn new words and practice signing.
On Dec. 5, the students were learning to sign the song Going Home by Drake.
The members also can contribute to the “words we want to learn” chart, Wilson said.
“That way, if there’s anything that they’ve come into contact with that they really want to learn so that they can communicate with somebody, I let them put it on the board,” Wilson said. “We’ll review that first and foremost…and we’ll go over it in class.”
Nyamang Ator, 11, a sixth-grader, joined the club “to learn a new language because it’s fun.”
“We learn new songs and new ways to sign words,” said Nyamang, who has been in the club since October. “You get to learn new things and learn how they are improving the language.
Sixth-grader Shamari Thornton, 12, joined to meet new people.
“[There’s] a lot of deaf kids and they don’t have friends, so I try to learn sign language so I can talk to them,” she said.
In her first year in the program, sixth-grader Kiaya Jemison, 11, was told about the club by her cousin. Kiaya said she has one deaf friend.
“She teaches me how to [sign] some things if I don’t know how to do it,” she said.
Nazerete Belai, 12, a seventh-grader said, “I’ve always wanted to learn a new language and I’m not exactly the [wordiest] person. I don’t like to talk that much. So when I heard about sign language, I was really excited.
“It’s just a fun experience—learning something so awesome,” Nazerete said. “If I ever meet a deaf person, I’ll be prepared. I’ll know how to talk to them, how to greet them.”
Nazerete said, “The best part about the club for me is Mrs. Wilson because she always knows how to make sign language fun…in such an upbeat way. That’s another part of this wonderful club.”
Club members learn approximately 20 words a week, according to Gabrielle Montgomery, 12.
“I’m learning to do something with my hands instead of just write and pick up stuff,” Gabrielle said.
Shayla Merriam, 13, wanted to learn a new language in addition to French, which she had in the sixth grade.
“There are a lot of hearing impaired students and I wanted to …talk with them and not be awkward with it,” she said.
Speaking through Wilson, Dashanay Brock, 14, an eighth-grade hearing impaired student said the club has benefited communications at the school for her.
“It’s really helped me,” Dashanay said. “I can communicate with other hearing students now.”
Before the club, hearing impaired students were singled out by their disability, Wilson said.
“They only had communication…with the interpreters,” Wilson said. “That was the only communication they had throughout the day.
“A couple of years ago, I had a couple of students that the only communication they had all day long was with the interpreters,” Wilson said. “Once they went home, nobody knew sign language. They had no communication—only at school.”