5th Graders Ditch Recess For Sign Language Club!

“It’s like they want to be like me.” – Rhemy Elsey

This article was posted on February 29, 2016 on Huffingtonpost.com. It discusses the wonderful initiative taken by several young students at Mark Bills Middle School in Peoria, Illinois. A student in a Grade 5 class, Rhemy Elsey is deaf, and primarily communicates through the use of sign language (ASL). Due to this, Rhemy must often depend on an interpreter to converse with others.

As reported by WMBD, this set up made it difficult for Rhemy to make friends at school, as students found it hard to directly communicate with him. This led to feelings of both social and emotional alienation within Rhemy.

“It can be really hard for [deaf kids] from a social and emotional standpoint to have an interpreter following them around all day long. It can feel somewhat isolating.”  – Arvin (Rhemy’s interpreter)

Due to such reasons, some of Rhemy’s classmates decided on their own to give up their recesses every Wednesday, in order to form and take part in an American Sign Language (ASL) club! In this club, the students learn how to communicate using ASL, thus making their conversations with Rhemy much more natural and enjoyable.

Furthermore, since these children are so young, learning languages is a natural skill for them. According to ABC news, the ASL club is working really well, and the children have already picked up many basic signs in conversational topics such as school, food, and clothing.

Reading this story made me feel very happy about today’s youth. The fact that such young children, at only ten years old, are willing to take such an initiative is inspiring! They are sacrificing their own free time to learn a whole new language, all to make their classmate feel more included. This is the kind of inclusive mindset that is necessary in all schools and classrooms. The formation of an ASL club not only helps the children communicate with their peer, it also opens them up to a whole new perspective. They are learning about people out of the “norm”. By taking such an action, these children have opened up the path to “broader perspectives”.

As Arvin states:

“It really gives them a perspective on this other culture within the U.S. that they previously weren’t aware [of], so they’re benefiting ginormously just in terms of learning about diversity and having a broader perspective on the world around them.”

A club that involves learning about differences in others is a perfect way to promote equity and diversity within school settings. With school being one of the main factors of socialization, it is so important that children be exposed to any differences they may encounter. As a result, children who are “different”, such as Rhemy who is deaf, will not feel the same kind of isolation anymore. They can feel as though their peers understand them, and can be friends with them. This kind of social integration is so important for young children. It builds confidence, social skills, and a positive self concept. This is why we should not only embrace diversity, we should also integrate it and understand it.

This article relates so well to our course on Equity and Diversity. What these kids have done, is not only adapt a more inclusive mindset, but they also went ahead and took real action — and that is what this course is all about. This actually reminded me of James Bank’s concept of the four levels of curriculum reform. Although this is not necessarily in the context of education curriculums, it is possible to relate it. This kind of initiative reminds me of Bank’s Decision Making/Social Action Approach. Not limiting themselves to awareness and acceptance, and actually taking initiative and action, is what these children are doing for Rhemy. It’s such a kind, thoughtful and enthusiastic leap that they have taken for their friend.

In a world where any difference has been feared and shunned throughout the years, it is so progressive that we now live in a society where children, without materialistic rewards or other incentives, are breaking away from what is generally expected of them in the education system to include a classmate who is ‘different’.

The best part about this article is that it was not the educators or teachers who started and encouraged this club, it was the students, the children. Only 10 years old. What lovely and brilliant young minds! These are the leaders of tomorrow, and that makes me look forward to a brighter future.


Article from here!


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