BRADFORD — Every morning, Donna Zartman is busy greeting the enthusiasm of the students learning sign language at Bradford Exempted Village Schools.
Zartman is Bradford’s Educational Interpreter, and has arranged for interested students, who come in early, to learn the “word of the day.” Zartman keeps the students’ worksheets, and she provides a sign language teaching guide they use for de-coding. Thursday’s word was “dining room.”
In addition, four posters hang around the school with the “word of the day.” Those successfully telling Zartman the word receive a small prize, such as candy or gum. In addition, Bradford Schools Superintendent Joe Hurst puts the word on Twitter.
“They love this; they come every morning to see Mrs. Zartman,” Hurst said. “We are responsible to help with our students’ education and this is a part of that. When the students see folks using sign language, some of them want to find out what is going on, and how to communicate differently. Also, it gives them the ability to talk to a relative, or someone in the school that requires communicating with sign language. These guys are here because it’s fun.”
One reason for the encouragement to learn sign language is to broaden the students’ horizons, according to Zartman. But another is for students to be able to converse with their friend, seventh-grader Ben Kitts. Kitts is not deaf, he has childhood apraxia of speech and aphasia. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, childhood apraxia of speech is a motor speech disorder that makes it hard for children to speak. Aphasia is an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write, according to the National Aphasia Association.
“It is is when the brain, the ears and the mouth don’t all work well together,” Zartman said. “He picks it up better when I give him the visual signs.”
Ben said he enjoys signing with Donna.
“I understand sign language more,” he said.
Ben’s mother, Tiffany Carine, said she is grateful for Bradford’s administration.
“Mr. Triplett (Bradford Secondary School principal) and Superintendent Joe Hurst have both been wonderful with ensuring Ben gets what he needs,” Carine said.
Zartman teaches “Signing Exact English,” instead of “American Sign Language.” “Signing Exact English” is taught, because Ben hears, and it matches what he is hearing better, Zartman said.
“Also, he requires the same written proficiency as everyone else. For him to see word order, because he hears word order makes sense,” she said. “His mom says, this year his language is becoming easier understood at home.”
“Ben is a totally different kid this year than he was last year,” Carine said. “He is a lot more confident. In the three previous years before Mrs. Zartman, Ben wouldn’t sign in front of his peers or out in public. This year is completely different. Now it is a very positive experience.”
In addition, Carine said that Ben is very excited that Zartman is teaching other people in the school sign language.
“She was the only other person in the school who could speak his language,” Carine said. “Now, he helps her with students learning sign language. Also, this is the first year Ben has had an interpreter for sports, which has made a huge difference. It didn’t occur to me he was missing out on what the coaches were saying, because he has always adapted to things. But when Mrs. Zartman started interpreting basketball, it has made a world of difference. Now I see him at the ball games signing to Mrs. Zartman in front of a ton of people.”
Zartman said the hardest thing about interpreting basketball, was that she had to learn basketball.
“I am not a sports girl, and Ben had to teach me a lot,” she said. “It is communicating with both coaches. When Ben is on the floor, I am standing next to the coaches telling Ben the plays. He is doing very well.”
This is Zartman’s first year at Bradford, but said she has worked as an educational interpreter for 10 years. She grew up with chronic ear infections and had fluctuating hearing loss, she said.
“For me, hearing loss is a very sensitive place in my heart,” she said.
In an effort to continue the sign language education, and meet the interest in the school and the community, Zartman is teaching a Sign Language class. The class will take place 3:15-4 p.m. Wednesdays, Feb. 7 to March 21, at the school. Those under age 10 must be accompanied by an adult. It is free, but donations are appreciated. RSVP is required to firstname.lastname@example.org.