MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A world without sound now is more real to Martinsburg South Middle School students and staff members, thanks to a first-time event that even prompted some youngsters to use sign language they learned during Deaf Awareness Week.
The event was an extension of some existing after-school activities, said Tanya Dallas-Lewis, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher who also serves as an equity and inclusion school liaison with Berkeley County Schools.
A large part of the credit also goes to Stephanie Fox, a special-education teacher who “has been signing since she was about 10 years old because her neighbor was deaf, and she also started the school club,” Dallas-Lewis said.
Dallas-Lewis, teacher liaison for the school’s Culture Club, said the group “looks every month for ways for our school to learn about different cultures.”
None of the approximately 860 students in sixth- through eighth-grades are deaf, but some are hearing-impaired, Dallas-Lewis said.
“We want to get our kids ready for the real world, and that includes accepting as well as embracing differences,” she said.
The weeklong observance, held Dec. 9-13, included an opportunity to learn some sign language as part of a special day devoted to it, she said.
“It was pretty much just kid banter, and teaching them some basic signs for things like lunch and good morning,” she said.
Friday was “silent day,” which meant that the school was “turned into a silent zone with as much signing done as possible while others used dry-erase boards or wrote on paper instead of speaking,” Dallas-Lewis said.
“We all did our best to heighten that awareness and be aware of what it means to be deaf,” she said.
A booth also contained information about hearing-impaired celebrities, she said.
Ava Snowden, a seventh-grade student and member of the school’s Sign Language Club, said she hopes to one day use that skill to help someone else.
“You never know when you might meet someone who is deaf, and this would make them feel so much less alone,” she said.
“I was impressed with how many people took this week seriously and really tried to communicate some way other than verbally. It was a way to show respect for the deaf and hearing-impaired.”
Eleven-year-old Nathan Johnson said he doesn’t know anyone with a hearing problem.
“But I now have a much better idea of how that might feel, and it isn’t easy to learn sign language. I got to learn how to sign good morning, hello, eat and drink, so I felt good about that,” he said.