Oysterponds School District

Oysterponds students learning to communicate in Braille, sign language

(Credit: Jen Nuzzo photos)
Oysterponds Elementary School students Brynn Dinizio (left) and Makayla Harvey ask questions using sign language. The enrichment workshop is part of the district’s Reach for the Stars program. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo photos)

A group of children at Oysterponds Elementary School had no problem finding their assigned seats on the carpet during the special workshop.

“Four, two, three, two, three, two — Noelle!” said 6-year-old Noelle as she ran her finger across an index card. “I found mine!”

She and her classmates were reading Braille, a lesson plan that’s part of a new enrichment program called “Reach for the Stars” at the pre-K through sixth-grade district in Orient.

After each student settled by an index card, they turned them over to see if they picked the correct ones.

Indeed, the students all found their names during that session, which took place one week after their first Braille lesson.

“This is a perfect language for kids,” said braille instructor Kathy Syron. “They’re learning with patterns and by touching.”

Teacher Kathy Syron uses a Twister board to teach Oysterponds students how to read Braille. The workshop takes place Friday afternoons.

Ms. Syron is one of several volunteers participating in ‘Reach for the Stars,’ a series of Friday afternoon career workshops led by local professionals.

Oysterponds teacher Sue Poveromo organized the program last school year to help students learn about different careers. It’s also designed to foster partnerships between members of the community and the school.

The program’s current theme is language. In addition to Braille, students are learning Spanish, debating skills, international songs and dance and sign language, which has personal significance for Ms. Poveromo.

“I grew up with it — my grandmother’s two brothers, their wives and children were deaf,” she said. “I’m partial to sign because of its beauty.”

Ms. Poveromo said that when she was growing up in the 1960s, there were two schools of thought about how people could best learn to live with deafness: learn sign language because it’s the most effective way to communicate or read lips to avoid drawing attention to their disability.

Her two aunts had different opinions. The tougher one didn’t allow the family to sign, Ms. Poveromo said.

“I was nosy, so I got my other aunt to teach me on the side,” she said. “When I thought of sign language for the program, I thought, why not Braille, too?”

As in the Braille workshop, Oysterponds students are learning about introductions in the sign language class.

“Your name, what is it?” sign language instructor Blake Dowling asked as she demonstrated the signs.

The students then partnered up and asked and answered with their names using sign language.

In addition to improving fine motor skills, students will be signing their favorite songs and playing games as they learn the language.

“By Friday afternoons, all kids are shot, so you want to keep them enriched and engaged,” Ms. Poveromo said. “If you really push too much, you’re going to lose them. But with ‘Reach for the Stars,’ our students are really excited and keep asking ‘When is it going to start?’”

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