UMITON – Brittney Rhodes encountered a deaf person at a local mall recently.
“She was trying to find the jewelry store,” Brittney said. Thanks to all she had learned in the American Sign Language Club (ASL) at Sumiton Middle School (SMS), Brittney was able to lend a hand. Not only did the student direct the young woman to the jewelry store, but she also served as an interpreter for the cashier.
“It felt good to help. I felt useful,” she said.
Rebbecca Odom, who is the staff interpreter for the deaf at SMS, leads the ASL club. When she first came to the school, there was a student in the fifth grade who was deaf. Several of the other students saw Odom signing and it interested them.
“They’d see me signing in class, and they wanted to learn,” she said. That’s when she decided to start the club.
That was three years ago. Currently, there are 35 students ranging from fifth grade through seventh grade who attend the meetings two mornings a week.
The club meets each Monday and Thursday. At the beginning of each year, the club starts off with basic finger spelling and signs. Next, they move on to simple sentences and phrases, according to Odom.
Now, the first part of their meetings is entirely silent. The students use only sign language with each other, according to Odom.
Odom had a good reason for learning to sign. Her middle daughter was born deaf. “We started signing with her about 18 years ago,” Odom remembered.
Her family lived in St. Louis at the time and Odom went to a two-year community college. She earned her degree in deaf communications. After her family moved to Alabama, Odom went on to get her bachelor’s degree in Human Communications from UAB.
Odom has worked in the school system for 14 years. She loves it at SMS because she has an opportunity to do these clubs and that is awesome, according to Odom.
The ASL club is important because signing is considered another language. Once the students master signing, they are bilingual, according to Odom. “Being bilingual broadens the student’s horizon,” she said.
“Meeting people who are deaf and being able to communicate with them is something that not many people can do,” she said.
“People in the deaf community spend their entire lives struggling to learn how to communicate with us,” Odom said. It means the world to those who are deaf when someone tries to communicate with them in their language, according to Odom.
One of her students had grandparents who were deaf, and another student had a sibling that was deaf. Learning how to sign opened communications for those families, according to Odom.
Some of the students are better at signing than others because it’s like playing the guitar, it takes practice.
The signing club is also a service organization. The first year they raised money and bought signing books for the library. Last year they raised money to pay for a water fountain at the school.