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 Parents Enjoy Free Sign Language Classes

The team at Davila Day School goes above and beyond to help its students, who are deaf and hard of hearing, meet their full potential.

Parental involvement and communication is key to making that happen, which is why Principal Tina Neal and her team have organized free American Sign Language (ASL) classes at the Chula Vista campus, which is operated by the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE).

“Parents don’t expect to have a deaf child,” Neal said. “We have parents who are working very hard. They do a lot of hand gestures, homemade signs. Deaf adults I know whose family didn’t learn sign, they don’t have a close relationship and they make their own families—and that’s not always best.”

The ASL for Families classes started in 2014, and demand was so high that the school decided to continue them.

“I’m hoping this will continue for all the years to come,”

Neal said. “Our parents and families need this for their children.”

Armida Alvarez said that thanks to the ASL class, she can better communicate with her 10-year-old son, Emiliano Rodriguez, and help him with homework.

“He feels more understandable, more receptive to conversation,” Alvarez said.

The National Association of the Deaf recognizes ASL as the backbone of American Deaf culture.

Neal cites research on the importance of language development in a child’s formative years, and the importance of parents being able to communicate with their child in order for the child to be successful in school.

A University of Kansas study found that during the first three years of life, 80 to 85 percent of the physical brain is developing. A child’s brain that is surrounded by frequent, positive language – spoken or ASL – will form an abundance of positive neural connections, building the foundation for thinking and learning. Young children grow intellectually when their parents talk or sign with them frequently. Davila’s ASL for Families class can help a child meet his or her potential, Neal said.

Davila instructional aide Maribel Armas teaches the class, which ranges in size from 12 to 18 adults, including staff members, parents, and other relatives. The class is held from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays, for three 10-week sessions per school year. Child care is provided for Davila Day School students.

Armas said she is glad she took on the task, and feels rewarded by the fact that the parents are better able to communicate with their children and educators at the school. The class enables parents and staff members to support SDCOE children in building self-esteem, confidence, and communication skills, she said.

“This is a great opportunity for me and the parents,” she said. “I enjoy teaching the class and I know in my deepest heart that those parents are excited to come.”

Some of the ASL for Families class members put their skills on display with a performance at the annual Davila Winter Wonderland show in December. The adults’ performance of “A Snowy Day,” an ASL handshape story, was a surprise for the children.

“The class has inspired me to continue learning this extraordinary language,” said Diana Duron, whose 7-year-old daughter, Jackie Morales, attends Davila. “There’s always something new to learn.”

Nancy Balestreri, an instructional aide at the school, started taking the ASL class about a year ago.

“I feel I can communicate better with staff and kids,” Balestreri said. “It’s a great investment.”

Davila Day School serves children who are deaf or hard of hearing in preschool through 6th grade and is operated in affiliation with SDCOE’s South County Special Education Local Plan Area.

Davila is located on the campus of Vista Square Elementary in Chula Vista. Its students come from eastern and southern areas of the county.

Principal Tina Neal and her team provide a language-rich learning environment, with full access to general education curriculum and standards. Davila children participate with their Vista Square peers in activities such as PE, music, and media arts. Davila currently has 41 students, seven teachers, two audiologists, and 10 instructional aides, as well as interpreters and occupational therapists.