Sign language included in school's daily routine

January 03, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

As at all county public schools, students at Shipley's Choice Elementary repeated the Pledge of Allegiance this morning.

But there were a couple of differences. In each classroom at Shipley's Choice, one student was assigned to translate the pledge into sign language, and the morning exercises, broadcast over closed-circuit television to all classrooms, included a sign language "word of the day."

"We try to reach out to our hearing-impaired students. Because we have handicapped and nonhandicapped students, we try to emphasize sign language throughout the school," says Principal Mary Ellen Street. "We have a sign for the day and a sentence for each week."

Such inventiveness is one reason the school was recently named as one of eight Maryland Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence. Now, Shipley's Choice will compete for recognition by the U.S. Department of Education. So far, only one private school in the county, Archbishop Spalding High, has achieved that honor.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick praised the eight Maryland Blue Ribbon Schools for their strong leadership, effective instruction and emphasis on "high expectations."

Mrs. Street, proud of that honor, says she and her staff have worked hard to create a challenging environment at Shipley's Choice.

"We really do have a strong sense of direction as a school, and the students are aware of the importance of education," says Mrs. Street. "We have been a growing school, we have more than doubled attendance since we opened, and that means we have new students, new parents and new faculty coming to us with new ideas."

The school, which serves children from kindergarten to fifth grade, opened in September 1984 in a wing of Severna Park Middle School.

In January 1989, the students and teachers moved into a new building that has "about 500 students and no portable classrooms," says Mrs. Street.

The school has two classes for hearing-impaired students and ++ another section for special education students.

Fighting to get the county Board of Education to build the new elementary school for Shipley's Choice really brought the community together, says Cindy Whittle, president of the school's PTA. Two of her children have moved on to the local middle school, but her son Roger is in second grade at Shipley's Choice.

"We have a 92 percent participation in PTA and we get about 60 percent of the parents into the school, even though both parents work in most of our families," says Mrs. Whittle.

As a parent of three students who have attended Shipley's Choice, Mrs. Whittle says the school's success depends not only on the dedication of volunteers but on the teachers' involvement.

"I'm a teacher and my husband is in the Navy, so we've moved a lot. By far, this is the hardest-working staff I've ever seen," says Mrs. Whittle. "It's not unusual for teachers to stay an extra three hours every day. That enthusiasm has transferred to students and parents."

So has the teachers' creativeness.

Fourth-graders, for instance, get a six- to eight-week lesson on sign language, and the school's music teacher tries to include something with sign language in every lesson.

"The office staff stands there and learns the signs too," says Linda Smith, another parent volunteer. "It's a special thing at that school."

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