Sign language story time a teacher's inspiration


January 25, 2002|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NOT EVERYONE listens at some of the Savage library's story times for children, but it's not because they are talking, squirming or otherwise occupied. It's because some of the young visitors cannot hear.

Thanks to the library's quarterly sign language story times, however, everyone can enjoy good books and a craft.

"We want to make sure that everyone is involved in our programs," said Susan Maranto, children's librarian.

The signed story times are the brainchild of Kathy Pongor, a teacher at Gallaudet University in Washington. She started the program shortly after moving to Savage six years ago, while teaching at Maryland School for the Deaf. A discussion with her young students was her inspiration.

"I asked the kids if they went to the library," said Pongor, a frequent visitor to the library. "They said, `No, because there's nothing there for me.'"

Pongor said that although the children can see, reading can be a challenge for deaf children because English sentence structure and grammar are different from the American Sign Language to which they are accustomed. "Written language can be a struggle for a deaf person. It's like a foreign language," she said.

Pongor, 45, is not deaf, but her knack for nonverbal communication started when she was a child in Toronto -- only Hungarian was spoken at home, and she did not learn English until kindergarten.

"I lived in an ethnic neighborhood with no common language," she said. "You found ways to communicate. You gestured through what you wanted to play."

As a youngster, Pongor's mother took her to the bookmobile every week. "I was a voracious reader," Pongor said, adding that as an adult she wanted to "share that love of books with other people."

The library staff welcomed Pongor's offer to volunteer to conduct the sign language story times. Like the library's other story hours, the signed story times include books and related crafts or activities, often tied to a seasonal or holiday theme.

Rita Snyder, library associate at the Savage branch, said that although Pongor's stories are targeted for the hearing-impaired, those who can hear enjoy them, too.

"The kids are just fascinated by Kathy's signing. She's a great interpreter," said Snyder, who studied sign language years ago at Gallaudet.

Snyder said Pongor teaches relevant sign-language vocabulary at the sessions. "It puts everyone on an equal playing field. We're all learning something," she said.

Through her library visits, Pongor hopes to help the local deaf population. And Pongor thinks it is a relatively large group with Gallaudet and the Maryland School for the Deaf nearby, and because the federal government employs many deaf workers in the area.

As a result, there are programs and services for the hearing-impaired, Pongor said.

"I try to direct people to services that are available," she said. She also tries to just help hearing-impaired patrons feel at ease at the library and to share with them a pastime she loves.

"It's welcoming for them to see a familiar face and see someone who can communicate with them," she said. "I hope they come away enjoying books."

The next signed story time, for ages 3 to 6 and called "Hands and Hearts," will be held from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12. Registration is required and begins Feb. 5.

Information: 410-880-5978.

Bankable art

Waiting in line at the bank can be as pleasurable as visiting an art gallery, thanks to a display of artwork in the lobby of Allfirst Bank in Kings Contrivance Village Center.

Featured artists, all pupils at Bollman Bridge Elementary, include Laurie Adler, Courtney Cappel, Travis Healy, Amber Hengen, Sam Nuss, Andre Jones, Andrea Hricko, J.P. Johanson, Zack Taylor, Vera Pastor, Tara Bresette, Sarah Pohler, Molly Bradtke and Brooke Wible.

Bridal bonanza

If you're teetering on the brink of going down the aisle, you might want to stop by Historic Savage Mill on Sunday for the Maryland Bridal Show. The event, to be held in the mill's Great Room from noon to 3 p.m., will feature many bridal fashions, food samples from local caterers, and a door-prize drawing for 14-karat gold wedding bands.

Advance tickets may be purchased by noon today for $5, or at the door for $8.

Information: 301-490-1668.

Parting words

A love of books can be contagious, says Rosanne Wilson, principal of Laurel Woods Elementary School.

"My mom's an avid reader" and always has been, she said. "Even when she was raising six children, she found time to read." Her mother, who is in her 70s, continues to make weekly visits to the library to borrow books.

Wilson says her mother's enthusiasm "rubbed off on me. Now I have a house full of books. I do love books," she said, if only she could find enough time to read them.

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