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Sign Language Class Inspires Pineville Students

by Daniel Bereznicki McDonald County Press [email protected] | November 24, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Daniel Bereznicki/MCDONALD COUNTY PRESS Shannon Scates (right) grew up with a deaf great-uncle and learned American Sign Language to communicate with him. Her student, Kaden Vance (left), has aspirations to be an ASL interpreter after seeing the deaf sign to each other at a Walmart store.

PINEVILLE -- Math teacher Shannon Scates is teaching her students American Sign Language (ASL) at Pineville Elementary School, and these ASL classes have inspired her students.

One student, Kaden Vance, 13, has plans to become an ASL interpreter. Their own experiences with the deaf have fueled their passion for learning, and they hope their efforts will bring awarenesses to deaf culture.

On Veterans Day, students from the Pineville Elementary School performed the pledge of allegiance in American sign language at the Second Annual McDonald County Veterans Day ceremony.

Scates herself has had experience with the deaf. Her great-uncle had lost his hearing after contracting scarlet fever when he was 12, and since then, the family has learned ASL to support him.

The idea for a class came when Scates was substituting at a high school. One of her students was deaf.

"I haven't used it in a very long time. But I started noticing that my hands would sign when I would talk. I'd sign 'sit down' ... I was like, 'Oh, I guess I do remember.'"

Now, she wants to pass on her knowledge to her students.

ASL does not have articles like "a" "an" or "the" and it doesn't always follow the same grammar structure as spoken English. The phrase: "In school, kids can learn about math and science to help themselves find a job." In sign, it would be: "Them, kids, go, school, learn, math, science, help, find, job, can."

Scates herself had to develop the ASL curriculum for the class because purchasing the curriculum could cost "thousands of dollars."

Vance has had an interest in ASL ever since he saw the deaf signing in a Walmart.

"A lot of people were going through Walmart ... and they couldn't hear, and they were signing to each other," said Vance. "Then I realized Mrs. Scates started teaching a class. So I took it. And now, when I'm walking through Walmart, I can understand what people are saying. It's pretty cool."

Vance feels learning ASL is very important, and he wants to be an ASL interpreter.

"There are a lot of people who can't hear ... And that's why I want to teach it. I want to help other people and be able to talk (sign) and get fluent in it."

There is no universal sign language, all sign languages are different, just like spoken languages. And they express emotions through facial expressions. A truly cheerful person would sign happy with a smile, while a sarcastic person will sign happy with a bored expression on their face.

In deaf culture, it's the deaf person who assigns a deaf sign name. This includes the first letter of a person's name and a special trait that's unique to them. Her great-uncle gave Scate's her sign name. Her name is the letter "S" which moves horizontally across from left to right. As another example, if someone were strong or muscular, his sign name would be the first letter of his name and the sign for strong if the deaf person notices that characteristic.

Most sign names aren't associated with the sound of the name, like the name Bowmen or Beau. The deaf won't sign the letter "B" and the sign for bow unless the deaf associates that person with archery or bow hunting.

Scates smiles and says her favorite signs are: "No and stop."

For individuals who want to learn sign language, Scates and Vance have a few tips.

"If they take time out of their day, like 30 minutes, for practicing," said Vance. "They look at (the signs) and try to sign them as close as they can, and then they see what they messed up on and fix it."

Scates also says: "I like to watch "TikTok" videos of deaf people because when they do the videos, they're signing. The popular songs that the kids are singing on TikTok, they will sign. It's really fun."

Another way to learn to sign is by signing and associating with the deaf.

Both Scates and Vance want to bring deaf awareness to the community and hope residents will take the time to learn a little bit of ASL.

"Sign language is a really beautiful language," said Scates. "It's just really nice to watch people do it. And I hope more people get interested in it because we do have a portion of society who are being excluded, just because they can't communicate with other people."

Someone trying to learn ASL can have a lasting impact on someone deaf. Scates recalls a moment last year when her students signed the pledge of allegiance at a Veterans Day event and someone with a deaf relative came and expressed thanks because it was the first time he's ever had any representation of the pledge.

No doubt, if someone wants to learn ASL, the deaf will appreciate it. Just like learning a new language, it takes effort and hard work. But the rewards of learning are endless, and just the fact that you are trying to learn will mean a lot to someone who is deaf.

photo Daniel Bereznicki/MCDONALD COUNTY PRESS Shannon Scates (left) and Kaden Vance (right) sign "I Love You." Both of them are hoping this story will bring awareness to the deaf community and inspire others to learn American Sign Language.

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