Bach kindergarteners, fifth graders learn sign language

Donna Mahoney teaches Bach fifth graders the American Sign Language alphabet Oct. 5. Here she’s signing the letter W.


By Tara Cavanaugh

With a head full of curly blonde hair and a wide smile, Jacob looks like any other energetic kindergartener at Bach Elementary. He sits with his friends at lunch, puts away his lunchbox all by himself, and tears around the playground at recess.

But there is something slightly different about Jacob. He’s deaf, and he communicates through sign language. Even so, his disability doesn’t set him apart from his kindergarten classmates. They, along with their fifth grade “buddies,” even learned some sign language from Jacob’s mom Donna Mahoney.

“Jacob might not be able to hear things, but he does see things and he does understand things. And he does have a language,” Mahoney said.

During lunch last Friday, fifth graders skipped their recess to take a lesson from Mahoney in the cafeteria. She taught them a variety of signs, such “school,” “happy,” “sad,” “good morning,” “what’s up,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome.”

The sign for “sad” mimics tears falling down one’s face. Bach Principal Shelley Bruder, far right, learns with the fifth graders.

Early on in the school year, Mahoney talked with both of the kindergarten classrooms about Jacob. “We wanted them to feel like they could ask questions openly,” she said. She also talked with the fifth grade classes, because they participate in activities with the kindergarteners as their “big buddies.”

Mahoney and her partner, who both grew up with deaf parents, are also teaching an American Sign Language class at Bach through Community Rec and Ed for the first time this year. Twenty K-5 students are learning sign language. The fee charged for the class goes back to pay for interpreters in the district.

Mahoney with her son Jacob at lunch last Friday. Behind them to the left is Jacob’s interpreter.

Jacob has an interpreter who spends the day with him at school, helping him interact with his teacher and classmates. But as more students learn sign language, the more Jacob can interact with them himself.

“Now we come to school and students say ‘Hi,’ ‘Good morning,’” Mahoney said. “Those are little things that make it easier for Jacob.”


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1 Comment

  1. Jacob, I am so proud of you and happy that I had the opportunity to meet you. I am glad that you are enjoying school and learning a great deal everyday.

    Keep up the AWESOME work,
    Principal Johnson

    Lakewood Elementary School
    Ann Arbor Public Schools

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