Saskatoon's St. Philip School brings sign language into the classrooms

The kindergarten to Grade 8 school in the Haultain neighbourhood has received students from around the city for its special Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program.

The special Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program has benefits for all students

Students and teachers in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program at St.Philip School in Saskatoon. (Kelly Malone/CBC)

Walking the hallways in St. Philip School in Saskatoon, it isn't uncommon to see students using sign language.

The kindergarten to Grade 8 school in the Haultain neighbourhood has received students from around the city for its special Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program. Deaf and hard of hearing teacher Lisa Warren said it's been a lot of hard work over the last four years.

"It took us a while. We had to show the research behind it — that the children coming and being congregated at one school who were learning American Sign Language and English, a bilingual program, need to be together," Warren explained.

"It's just like any language learning program, if you are going to learn French you are together in the French school."

The children who are deaf or hard of hearing have direct instruction in sign language, but they also have a sign language interpreter in their classrooms. With multiple hearing-impaired students, sign is also used in the hallways, with friends, and at recess.  

"What it means to bring these children together, it makes me emotional really, is their social and emotional wellbeing has just skyrocketed," Warren said.

"You can imagine if you use a visual language and the only person you had to talk to in an easy, natural way is your interpreter, that makes life difficult." 

At St. Philip school the kids can communicate easily without having to strain. Warren said there have been visible improvements for hearing children as well.

"This school I've noticed in particular, the English as an alternative language students that come from all different countries, having that interpreter at the front of the class benefits them as much as the deaf student," she said, adding they pick English up much faster.  

"They just naturally interact back and forth, the hearing and the deaf students. They don't see them as deaf; they see them as one more student in the school. They are allowed to be who they are."

In the classroom

In the Grade 3 classroom, the teacher does the usual lesson and an interpreter signs to the side for one student.

"I think my school is special because I get to go to Sign Club and we get to learn sign language here too in class," classmate Grace Gautier said.

Grade 3 students think their school is really special. (Kelly Malone/CBC)

Sign Club brings hearing and non-hearing students together to play and practice their sign language.

"My school is special because we have lots of programs for the deaf and [there is a] hard of hearing room," classmate Sydney Gerow added.

Lindsay Patola's daughter is in the Grade 3 class, and she has another daughter in Grade 1 at the school. She said even though they don't have hearing issues, her daughters are picking up sign language quickly.  

"What I've noticed particularly this year, although starting last year, is that they are really interested in the sign language," she said.

"It's exciting. It's interesting. I think that they don't realize that they are in a unique setting, that this is special, and I love that the learning comes so intuitively. They are inspiring."

Lindsay Patola's two children go to the school and they have picked up sign language from their classmates. (Kelly Malone/CBC)

Currently there are five students who are deaf and two who are hard of hearing.  Warren said they already know there's a lot more entering kindergarten next year. She said it's encouraging to see the numbers grow because it's an environment where they "can come together and just be kids."

St. Philip was one of the nominees for CBC's Saskatoon Morning Nominate Your School contest. Over the next few days and weeks, there will be profiles of some of the great things happening in schools throughout the city.

The winner of the contest was Nutana Collegiate, and Saskatoon Morning will be broadcasting from the school March 22 from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.  Everyone is invited to come to the school, have some coffee, take in the show and meet the Saskatoon Morning team.


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