Sign language helps shy student connect

Special to Leader-Press 


S. C. Lee Junior High eighth grader Riley Wood peeks out from her bangs that she uses to hide her face. She watches her fingers move rapidly in front of her as they spell out words demonstrating her patriotism and love for her nation. 

Wood, who is extremely shy, uses American Sign Language each morning when students are reciting the U. S. and state pledges of allegiance. Wood has been signing since 6th grade and is also able to sign a greeting, her name and other conversational phrases.

“Being deaf is a serious thing, and considering I can hear myself, I can’t imagine what a deaf person goes through not being able to hear,” Wood said.  

Wood learned to sign at her previous school before moving to Copperas Cove.

“Because everyone at my old school did it, I didn’t think she would ever get noticed for it,” Wood said. ‘”The disadvantage to signing is that people look at you funny. But to me, it’s special.  I hope to be able to utilize it someday to communicate with someone who is deaf.”

American Sign Language is the fourth most studied modern/foreign language at colleges and universities in the U.S., according to the Modern Language Association’s statistics. Among hundreds of signed languages around the world, up to two million people speak ASL in North America alone, making it the third or fourth most used language in the U.S. after Spanish and English.

Reading interventionist Sky Gerdel said she enjoys watching wood sign the pledges each morning.

“Other students get to see an alternate way to communicate and honor our flags and the freedoms and sacrifices they represent,” Gerdel said. “I think it is very brave of Riley to share her talents with us, especially knowing she can be a shy young lady in class. The first time I saw her sign the pledges, I told her how proud I was of her for doing that and asked how she learned. Although Riley can be shy, she is very capable of using her spoken words and does so very intelligibly.”

A University of Pennsylvania study revealed that ASL-learning kids always had higher reading levels and a 15–20% improvement in vocabulary over students who did know know ASL. They even had higher test scores than the non-ASL kids.

Another University of Massachusetts study showed that students well-versed in ASL had a much easier time grasping structural geology which many students struggle with. The key to understanding these concepts is strong visualization skills and the ability to process complex spatial information. Native signers have both of these qualities.

“Plus, it’s cool to sign,” Wood said. “I enjoy sharing it with our class.”

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