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ASL Students Help Parents of Deaf Children Improve Communication Skills Through Family Signs Program

American Sign Language students at Lone Star College-CyFair were also teachers this past semester helping parents learn to communicate better with their Deaf children through the Family Signs Program.

“Approximately 90% of Deaf children are born into hearing families, many of whom have had little exposure to sign language or Deaf culture,” said Leyel Hudson, LSC-CyFair’s lead faculty for ASL and the Interpreter Training Program.

As participants of the Family Signs Program, LSC-CyFair’s more advanced sign students were paired with parents who have Deaf children and wanted to learn to communicate more effectively. A free sign language program, Family Signs allows the students (the parents of deaf or hard of hearing children) and the instructors (in this case, LSC-CyFair ASL students) to participate from any location in Texas with high-speed Internet access.

“Our students had a lesson plan and they met for 30 minutes, once a week, via a webcam with the parents using programs such as Skype or ooVoo to teach them signs,” said Hudson. “This was wonderful for our students, too, because if the parents asked them signs the students did not know, it forced students to research the answers with tutors, teachers and the Deaf community.”

One successful Family Signs Program pair this past semester was LSC-CyFair student Stacey Hebert, who is pursuing an ASL degree to become an interpreter, and parent Deleisha Relford, who has a 9-year-old daughter at the Texas School for the Deaf.

“I loved the opportunity to get to learn news signs and to teach the new signs I learned to my daughter when she came home on the weekends,” said Relford. “I think this is a great idea for the family of students with a hearing disability to be able to communicate with them better.”

Hebert said growing up she had been interested in learning sign language to communicate better with her own family members who were hard of hearing, but never did. When she became a mother, she said one of her children was a late talker and the speech therapist baby signed to him. Then as a stay-at-home-mom, she volunteered at her children’s school, Birkes Elementary, which is a Cy-Fair Independent School District campus that includes the Deaf Education Program.

“I met the Deaf Education teachers and had so much support at Birkes that it sparked an interest deep down,” said Hebert. “Before I knew it, I was working toward an ASL degree … ASL is a whole new language, but I love it.”

Hebert’s goal now is to be an interpreter in the school system, not a teacher. So the thought of teaching someone else to sign when she was still a student learning to sign herself, made her nervous. However, she followed the lesson plans, sometimes adding her own vocabulary words or phrases and even made practice videos for Relford to review again later as needed.

“I just taught my ‘mom’ how I liked to be taught. I did things that helped me at school for her. We learned and practiced together at our pace,” said Hebert.

Preparation, organization and practice were keys to their success, said Hebert. She also admits that she’d find herself finger spelling when riding in the car or signing to her children, who didn’t think it odd as they see sign language used at school.

“Working with Stacey was great. She was willing to work around my schedule and even if I had to miss a week, she would double up with me the following week,” said Relford. “She even got the chance to meet my daughter and one Saturday, she taught me, my mom and my daughter.”

LSC-CyFair was one of only five colleges chosen to participate in the Family Signs Program in conjunction with the Educational Resource Center on Deafness at Texas School for the Deaf.  Other colleges included LSC-North Harris, McLennan Community College, Tarrant County College and Texas Christian University.

“So out of the five colleges, two were within our very own system. That was truly an honor for us,” said Hudson.

For information on the Family Signs program, go to www.familysigns.org. For information on the ITP program at LSC-CyFair or LSC-North Harris, go to LoneStar.edu/interpreter-training-dept.