Award-winning school’s journey to learn NZSL

Issue: Volume 95, Number 19

Posted: 25 October 2016
Reference #: 1H9d5F

Teachers and students at St Theresa’s School have made a big effort to learn New Zealand Sign Language but principal Donna McDonald says they are still at the beginning of their journey.

When Andre started at St Theresa’s School in Plimmerton his new teachers and classmates knew they needed to be able to communicate with him.

Andre, 5, was St Theresa’s only profoundly Deaf student when he started in January, but within a few months the school had already won an award for its efforts at promoting New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL).

School principal Donna McDonald says she was “blown away” when St Theresa’s was named the winner of the NZSL in Schools award at May’s NZSL Awards.

“We were humbled and blown away when we won the award,” she says. “We are still at the very beginning of our journey to learn New Zealand Sign Language.”

From a group of teachers attending a local night class to the formation of a Sign Language Club, Donna says many of the teachers and students at St Theresa’s have been making a big effort to learn NZSL.

“We can definitely see what Andre has brought into the school,” she says. “We’re trying to incorporate sign language into everything we do on a daily basis."

“Andre is learning New Zealand Sign Language alongside the rest of us, we’re all learning together. It’s a real two-way street."

“The children and adults have both benefited from having him here.”

Donna says it has been a learning journey for the whole school since Andre started.

“We’re expecting there will be highs and lows along the way,” she says. “We have noticed little things that we’ve had to adjust to over time. For example, he can’t hear the teacher’s instructions for pack-up time so one of the other children has to go over and quietly alert him that it’s pack-up time.”

Teacher Deborah Norris says that anything Andre learns, so does the rest of the class.

“One of our first learning initiatives we put into place was for all students to learn three NZSL words a week for their homework,” she says. “These were taken from our word wall and now we are putting them together and beginning to sign full sentences.”

The children are like sponges and are absorbing NZSL quickly, Deborah says.

“It was daunting at the start because I didn’t know anything, but we have just been taking it step by step.”

Andre’s learning is supported by his teacher’s aide Vinny, and specialist resource teacher from van Asch Deaf Education Centre, Darryl, both of whom are fluent in NZSL.

Vinny, who started learning NZSL more than 20 years ago, says she has been impressed by the enthusiasm students and teachers at St Theresa’s have for learning NZSL.

“They’re just so receptive, I’m so inspired,” she says. “The whole community has been getting involved, teachers and parents as well.”

Donna says students and teachers throughout the school have been learning their sign names, something that is gifted to them by the Deaf community.

Next term the school will be holding their own NZSL classes for teachers, part of their ongoing professional learning and development.

On Mondays the school has Sign Language Club, which is open to all students from the school.

Organised by Vinny, the club uses the Thumbs Up! section on the Ministry’s Te Kete Ipurangi website and the NZSL dictionary to learn new signs. Vinny says the students often go home and teach their parents.

“It’s amazing, some of them can stand-up and do whole sentences by themselves now.”

Even the school song has been made accessible with the addition of signs.

Vinny and Darryl have worked with teachers at St Theresa’s School to develop a wide range of learning resources for Andre to use.

For example after a trip to Te Papa earlier in the year, Vinny created an NZSL story book about the visit. This is now one of Andre’s favourite books.

Andre also uses the Aurasma application on his iPad, which allows him to match up images in a book with signs.

Deborah says it is important to be inclusive of all students.

“When Andre leaves our school, we want the six years that he has spent at St Theresa’s school to have been rich in NZSL and communication,” Donna says.

“We want Andre and his peers to be fluent and confident users of NZSL and to have developed strong social and learning communication skills. It is our belief that the whole community will benefit from this.”

Further information

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 5:54 pm, 25 October 2016

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