Student-led signing club creates inclusion
A student-led sign language club is helping Wellington students communicate while also raising awareness of one of New Zealand’s three official languages.
When deaf student Zoe Ferguson started Year 9 at St Mary’s College, Wellington, only a few of her hearing friends knew some basic sign language. Now in Year 13, she leads the school’s flourishing sign language club, which attracts more than 20 members each week to its meetings.
“We have a conversation; I don’t stand at the front of the class and teach at them. We sit there and we have group conversations – it’s a much more natural way of learning,” says Zoe.
“It means that a lot of the [hearing] students are able to communicate with me and also there’s a greater awareness about deaf culture and about sign language.”
While in Year 9, Zoe’s friends learned basic signs from a deaf woman who visited at lunchtimes.
Although there was no formal instruction for the next few years, Zoe’s friends could communicate with her through signs, and their knowledge of the language continually improved. Then, last year, her English teacher began learning sign language through night classes.
"She thought it would be really cool if we could start the sign language club up again, but this time I would be the leader, rather than having an external deaf woman come into the school," says Zoe.
"It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a position like that, teaching other students. I was leading the class but there was also my English teacher, Charlotte Meyer, and an interpreter was there to support the language."
Zoe says it is important that teachers learn basic signs if there is a deaf student in the school as communicating through a teacher-aide or interpreter can cause people to hold back.
"It means that the teacher can be much more engaging with the deaf student," she says.
"Having somebody who was actually able to sign to me made a huge difference in my education because it meant I was able to have a better relationship with them."
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