Signing just ‘business as usual’ for school

People across the country are dedicating time to learning this week during New Zealand Sign Language Week, but it was business as usual for one Dunedin school which has special facilities for the deaf.

Of the 47 pupils at Halfway Bush School, seven pupils are deaf.

School principal Brian Filipo said it became a beacon school for deaf pupils about two years ago and received funding for specialist staff and equipment from Ko Taku Reo, an organisation dedicated to deaf education.

Many schools incorporated some sign into their lessons this week, but that was "business as usual" at Halfway Bush School, he said.

Each morning they began the day with a bit of sign and on Thursdays hosted a hub for deaf pupils from around Dunedin, which allowed them to interact with one other.

Being around others like them made the children more engaged in their learning and helped their confidence.

Showing the sign for ‘‘play’’ at Halfway Bush School yesterday are (back, from left) Paige Clarke...
Showing the sign for ‘‘play’’ at Halfway Bush School yesterday are (back, from left) Paige Clarke (10), of Brockville School, Emily Doidge (7), Matty Edwards (8), of Mornington School, and Zantos Marsh (8), of Bathgate Park School, (front, from left) Jasper (5), Betty (7) and Jamieson (8) Skinley, of Halfway Bush School. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Having a large proportion of deaf pupils meant all the children felt a connection with the language, which made them eager to learn and use it.

The pupils had reached the point where it was naturally in use, and hearing children were able to communicate with deaf children in the playground.

There was also technology to help.

A teacher could put on a receiver and microphone, which hung around their neck, and their voice would be amplified and sent to all the deaf pupils’ hearing aids.

New Zealand Sign Language Week was a great movement that helped normalise deaf education, Mr Filipo said.

Although the week had little effect on the school’s routine, the pupils were still excited by it.

Some of the pupils from the school had even made a video for New Zealand On Air in which they taught some sign language.

Betty Skinley said sign language was a special part of their lives and it felt good to see people care about it.

Her favourite word in sign language was "strawberry", which is done by making a circle with the index finger and thumb.

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