Samuel Staples Elementary School’s second-grade teacher, Hannah Haydu, has introduced American Sign Language (ASL) to her classroom to teach students about empathy and compassion for other people.
“We’ve been doing ‘Trait of the Month’ each month and we got to empathy,” said Haydu. “We thought that maybe we could record ‘All Are Welcome,’ a book that we love, but also could sign.”
“I love the message of the book just seeing different skin colors, students in wheelchairs, and different flags,” said Haydu. “It’s just saying that no matter your skin color, no matter your race, different snacks, different clothes, that everyone’s welcome in the classroom. We’re part of a community.”
Recently, the class has published a video with students signing in ASL to the book “All Are Welcome,” written by children’s author Alexandra Penfold, as it is being read aloud so that students who are deaf or hard of hearing can enjoy the story along with non-deaf students.
“We basically chose that book because it doesn’t matter what you’re like on the outside, it matters what you’re like on the inside,” said student Clark Nathanson. “Sign language and empathy go hand in hand because no matter if you’re deaf or not, all people can listen to it and be able to read it.”
During the filming process, many students found it difficult to learn the ASL for the book, but Haydu was especially impressed by her students’ eagerness to collaborate and their willingness to help their classmates overcome these learning challenges.
“When we were learning how to sign that book, it was tricky for all of us, but we all learned it quick and we all helped each other,” said student Charlotte Kaufman.
“When everybody was recording, we all stood by and did all the parts because Mrs. Haydu taught us everything, so we could help other kids who were learning,” said Kaufman. “It was really hard, but we kept trying and evolving through everything.”
Parents have been supportive of their children learning ASL and have helped strengthen their children’s interest beyond creating the video.
“Empathy is like if you’re not going through what other people are going through, then you can feel the same way and say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry that you’re going through that,'” said student David Seanor. “My parents saw it and they were like ‘Wow, that’s amazing.'”
With additional support from faculty and staff at Samuel Staples Elementary School, most notably Jennifer Del Conte, who–in addition to being Director of Special Services–is also a member of the deaf and hard of hearing community, students were able to learn ASL in a positive learning environment.
“Diversity probably hasn’t been as important as it has been in the last four or five years,” said principal Kimberly Fox Santora. “I think teachers have worked feverishly trying to find ways to reach people who are different and to celebrate their differences. When it comes from a teacher and the kids have interest, great things happen.”
Although the class has achieved its primary goal of learning how to sign “All Are Welcome,” many students feel that ASL has become a special component of their classroom and will continue to use it.
“My favorite part about learning sign language is learning simple signs like ‘I love you’ or ‘me too,’ or even the alphabet,” said student Sloane Corbett. “It’s very fun and special for us. That’s why we love sign language.”
Photos by Sophie Camizzi