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Signs of love: learning a new language

Learning to speak with hands draws families closer together

Posted: January 30, 2009 10:01 p.m.
Updated: January 31, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Amparo Ceballos demonstrates to the rest of the class how to sign the word 'rabbit,' as they learned how to correctly sign different animals Thursday night at Canyon Springs Elementary School. Parents, siblings and family members of deaf children meet at the school twice a month in order to learn how to better communicate with one another.

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For about three years, Margarita Leyva was unable to communicate with her deaf daughter, Julianna.

Without a knowledge of sign language, Leyva, 35, depended on hugs and kisses to communicate with Julianna, now a 7-year-old first-grader at Canyon Springs Community School.

After moving from Oregon to Canyon Country, Leyva came across free sign language classes held at Canyon Springs Community School for the family members and school staff who want to communicate with deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

It's been more than four years since Leyva began the sign language classes with her 11-year-old son Jasyn and 6-year-old daughter Faith.

"It makes you realize all that you've been missing," Leyva said after Thursday's sign language class.

As the family learns sign language, Leyva said her daughter catches her sign language mistakes.

"Just being able to talk to her is a big, huge response," Leyva said.

She plans to take classes for as long as possible.

"I hope it stays forever. You always learn something new," Leyva said. "We need these classes."

The sign language classes began a decade ago, after sign language instructor Diane Aguinaldo realized that adult education classes for parents of deaf children were limited.

The classes that existed required parents to leave their children with babysitters, something many considered too expensive. Other classes didn't have Spanish-translation services.

With help from the Sulphur Springs School District, the sign language classes for beginning signers took form and in the 10 years since, Aguinaldo taught roughly 300 family members and support staff.

Canyon Springs hosts the sign language classes twice a month for nine months out of the year. The average class size consists of 15 to 30 parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Even bus drivers and school supervisors attend the classes.

During the nighttime classes, support staff babysit the young deaf and hard-of-hearing children as their family members learn how to communicate with them in the next classroom.

Aguinaldo, a sign language teacher for 29 years, speaks English as she signs while a Spanish translator helps Spanish-speaking family members.

Canyon Springs has up to 30 deaf and hard-of-hearing students. With sign language teachers on staff, the school and its classes draw deaf children from across the Santa Clarita Valley.

While giving parents the tools to communicate with their hearing-impaired children is the key, academics also play a role.

"If we could get parents communicating better with their own children, they would succeed academically and socially, just as their hearing peers," Aguinaldo said.

The classes give families a glimpse of how their deaf children live.

"They're not only learning how to sign, they're learning about the deaf community," Canyon Springs Principal Lynn David said.

The school also teaches students who want to learn sign language, allowing them to communicate with their peers.

"(Deaf students are) just like anyone else and you need to learn how to communicate with them," said Canyon Springs assistant principal Jane D'Anna.

It's a crucial idea when it comes to integrating the students.

Jayna Nastally teaches deaf and hard-of-hearing three- to 6-year-olds at Canyon Springs.

"They're ready to learn. They're like little sponges," she said.

Her goal is to give the students an equal opportunity.

"I want to see them achieve everything that every other student on this campus can achieve," she said.

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