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Kindergarten Students Learn American Sign Language from High School Students

“Christmas,” “break,” “light,” “change,” “line up,” “see,” “night” and “new” were among the new vocabulary words a class of kindergarten students at Central Park Elementary School learned to sign with American Sign Language (ASL) on Dec. 5. Leading this holiday-themed lesson were students from one of Santa Clara High School’s ASL classes. When the big buddy and little buddy pairs got together, they reviewed old and new vocabulary, signed to a song called “Trip the Light” and played an outdoor game involving signing.

“When I started teaching at Santa Clara High School three years ago, I noticed that Central Park was the closest elementary school,” said Vonny Lee, world language ASL instructor, who learned ASL to communicate with a friend. “So I called the principal of Central Park about doing a buddy program and then we were matched up with the school. Whenever my students are able to teach something they have learned, the content sticks with them and they’re less likely to forget what they’ve been taught.”

This year, Lee’s ASL class is working with Anna Ng’s kindergarten students, who are enthusiastic about learning to communicate with their hands.

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“My students are excited to have big buddies,” Ng said. “They have third grade buddies and they have high school buddies. During the first ASL meeting back in early November, the kindergartners were shown how to spell their name with the ASL alphabet chart. After the big buddies left the classroom, some of my students have tried to sign the alphabet on their own.”

Ng added that her students’ knowledge of ASL has helped her with classroom management.

“When you are signing, you have to focus on whoever is speaking,” Ng said. “You can ask someone to ‘sit down’ or ‘stand up.’ Sometimes my students would sign to me that they need to use the bathroom. I see that they’re signing what they need, and I give them a head nod to permit them to go. Sometimes the signing helps makes things less distracting in the classroom.”

“The Central Park Elementary School students and Santa Clara High School students will be meeting six times this school year,” Lee said. “Dec. 5 is the second meeting. The Santa Clara High School students walk from their school to the elementary school. The high school students don’t miss out on any classes by participating in this. When they’re done, they head back to campus for lunch.”

For Santa Clara High School student Crystal Tapia, 15, her visits to the elementary school have been a positive experience.

“We try to pass on the knowledge of ASL. We also want others to be more aware about people who are deaf or hard of hearing,” Tapia said. “Interacting with the children and teaching them ASL has helped me realize how children of a young age can learn so fast. I’d like to be a kindergarten teacher when I’m older because I enjoy spending time with younger kids.”

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