Students at Sterling Elementary School are learning a new language without speaking a word.
With the help of two area high school students, the children are developing basic conversational skills using American Sign Language.
The lessons are part of school projects for seniors Nick Barnes of Kenai Central High School and Corinne Kubena of Soldotna High School.
"It's just something I thought would be fun to do," said Corinne, who first learned sign language when she took a 10-week course a couple years ago. The hours she spends at Sterling Elementary fit in with her work cooperative class and give her an opportunity to work with children at the school where her father, Paul Kubena, serves as principal.
"It worked out nicely," she said.
For Nick, the time spent teaching is an effort to fulfill his civic project graduation requirement. Teaching sign language seemed natural, he said, as it is his primary form of communication.
"We're teaching to show (the kids) what sign language is like. It's a different language," he said.
Corinne and Nick are spending three afternoons a week rotating to different classes at the elementary school to teach students the basics of the alphabet, numbers and basic vocabulary and conversational skills.
Sixth-graders Shana Powell, right, and Jasmine Clock practice asking each other their names, ages and hometowns during a lesson at Sterling Elementary.
Photo by Jenni Dillon
Last Wednesday, for example, they taught the second- and third-graders in Darcia Dierick's class how to ask each other's names, ages and hometowns and how to answer those questions.
The younger students pick up the language quickly, Corinne said.
"The fifth- and sixth-graders are a little more reserved, but the little kids seem excited," she said.
That fact was evident as the students in Dierick's class quickly demonstrated the signs they remembered from previous lessons from Nick and Corinne.
Later in the afternoon, Nick and Corinne took their lessons to Teri Hoffman's sixth-graders, who were indeed a little slower to get into the lesson, especially after a morning of standardized testing.
By the end of the day, though, Hoffman's students were standing in front of their peers demonstrating their skills as quickly as the younger children.
Sixth-grader Sarah Overpeck said she was enjoying the opportunity to brush up on her signing skills.
Sarah said she already knows some sign language from experiences with her church, but she's eager to learn more.
"When I'm older, I want to sign for mute and deaf people," she said.
In the meantime, Nick and Corinne will continue helping Sarah and Sterling Elementary peers build their vocabularies with food, animal and school-related words.
And while the two high-schoolers will gain credits for their work, they also said they're having fun with the younger kids.
"I'm really enjoying helping the teachers," Nick said. "I think it's a lot of fun."
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