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Signing letters of learning


On Wednesday afternoons, six people gather at the Cloverdale Senior Multipurpose Center to learn American Sign Language (ASL).

“You can learn it and learn it and learn it, but if nobody else knows it there’s nothing you can do,” Cloverdale resident MaryAnn Wilson said.

Wilson teaches an ASL class at the senior center every Wednesday at 12:45 p.m., where a modest group chips away at a makeshift curriculum full of beginner ASL information. So far they’ve learned the alphabet, words and phrases that can be used in emergency and medical situations, numbers — the list gets longer every week.

“They’re learning ‘hi,’ ‘how are you,’ the things you want to know,” she said.

Though Wilson’s own ASL schooling is limited to a few years of classes she took while in college, and being part of the deaf and hard of hearing community, she has stacks of books and ASL dictionaries to help her lead the way. While the classes have a student and teacher model, there’s also a strong component of unity and working together to learn new information.

On April 3, the class began with a call and response signing exercise. The group went around in a circle, one member fingerspelling a world from a list of terms, and everyone else signing the word.

According to Wilson, the class is learning quicker than she anticipated. The sessions were initially supposed to only run for six weeks. However, with the April 3 class being its fifth session, the timeline is being extended. Since the group members are still interested in learning, Wilson said that they’ll get deeper into learning different signs.

“That’s the difference between school and here — you don’t have to follow a curriculum,” she said, adding that the non-fixed schedule allows them to do activities that promote learning the language, while still having fun classes.

Wilson co-taught an ASL class at the senior center for four years a while back, but the sessions slowly began to fizzle.