As first-grade teacher Olivia McRay read "Arthur and the True Francine" to her students at Mary G. Hogsett Primary School, she told the story not only with her face, acting out emotions as she went along, but also her hands, connecting language to movement and teaching some American Sign Language.
McRay's class incorporates ASL into all of their Learning Target/I Can Statements each day. She can also use a sign when teaching a new vocabulary word.
However, she said not all of the signs they do are the "correct" ASL sign. Sometimes, words the class needs a sign for are spelled out by letter in ASL, so her students who are who are Children of Deaf Adults, or CODA, help out — "They think of a sign that they feel best relates to the word we are learning and teach their friends that sign," she said.
"I want all of my students to feel connected and part of my class, but sometimes, that can be easier for students who aren't the minority," she said. "For this reason, I try to make sure all of my students have the opportunity to put their own, unique stamp on the class."
Like with ASL, McRay incorporates Spanish into the classroom as well. She said there are seven wonderful English Language Learners in her class this year, as well as an amazing instructional assistant, Jackeline Policarpio, who is bilingual.
“She is a tremendous help and offers such great insight into our learning,” McRay said. “I try to incorporate Spanish as often as possible, just like I do with ASL.”
She said during class morning meetings, where they work on Social Emotional Learning, "I have my Spanish-speaking students teach the class a word or phrase that can be useful at school. For example, today, we learned how to say 'Do you want to play with me?' It is always so rewarding to watch my students lead this instruction. They take such ownership in teaching their peers and are always so kind and helpful when doing so. Additionally, I love seeing my Spanish speaking friends smile when they hear their classmates say the word or phrase correctly — it truly is such a rewarding experience to witness!"
McRay said before incorporating these learning processes into the class, many students didn't know what it meant to be Deaf, Hard of Hearing or a CODA. A lot of them also found it fascinating that their peers could speak another language.
"I see so much value in teaching students more about one another," she said. "I feel like it not only allows us to connect more as a class, but it also encourages students to be more accepting and understanding of peers who are not like them. I had a student tell me that she met a friend at the park who was Deaf one weekend and was able to use some of the signs she learned in class to tell him hello and her name. That story was enough for me to justify me doing this. I was so happy to hear that these two children were able to connect and interact."
She said, "Things like communication barriers can keep students from feeling confident enough to step out of their bubble and connect with someone. I love that teaching these students new languages allows them to start conversations and make friends."
There are many great things about Danville Independent Schools, of which she is an alumna, she said, like the teachers, athletics and resources available.
"What I am most proud of is that the Danville Schools is in no way a cookie-cutter school, and we don't want to be," she said. "I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to grow up and learn amongst people who were different from me. I couldn't imagine it any other way. I love that the walls of the Danville Schools are filled with unique students who bring such wonderful perspectives, talents and skills to the table. As an educator, I do spend a lot of my day teaching, but I spend a lot more time learning from these awesome kids."
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