Award Winning School's Journey to learn NZSL
Published on Thursday, 24 November 2016, 10:57 a.m.   Print Article

Andre, 5, was St Theresa’s school’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 benefitted 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 time to pack up.”

Andre, 5, started at St Theresa’s School in Plimmerton at the start of the year.
Andre, 5, started at St Theresa’s School in Plimmerton at the start of the year.

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 3 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 any students from throughout the school.

One of Andre’s classmates learns NZSL.
One of Andre’s classmates learns NZSL.

Organised by Vinny, the club uses the Thumbs Up! section on the TKI websiteand 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.”

The NZSL club at St Theresa’s School meets once a week.
The NZSL club at St Theresa’s School meets once a week.

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 6 years that he has spent at St Theresa’s school to have been rich in communication, including NZSL,” 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.”

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