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342 || Breaking the Sound Barrier: Fifth Graders and Broadway Learn Sign Language, Reach Out To Deaf

Fifth-grader Rhemy Elsey is talking directly to his classmates for the first time — even though he’s deaf.

Even though Rhemy has spent his entire life without the ability to hear — he has been deaf since birth — he still has a lot to say. Just like any fifth-grader. American Sign Language has been the main form of communication for Rhemy, and coupled with body language and emotive facial expressions, Rhemy says all he wants to say.

But when he transferred from Woodrow Wilson Elementary School — a school for students with hearing loss — to Mark Bills Middle School, a local public school, there was a new kind of adjustment. That one change meant Rhemy was suddenly the only one who knew American Sign Language.

While Rhemy communicates efficiently through a personal interpreter, his classmates wanted to be able to connect with him directly. So they started a sign language club to learn American Sign Language to better communicate with Rhemy.

Every Wednesday during lunch and recess, 12 fifth-graders learn American Sign Language from Rhemy’s interpreter, Tammy Arvin.

“I used to have to speak loudly when talking to Rhemy, but now we can sign to one another, so it’s pretty cool,” Tabria Smith, 11, told TODAY.com.

Rhemy’s interpreter says she’s noticed Rhemy gaining confidence in his interactions with classmates. The sign language club is breaking down social and emotional barriers that, Tammy admits, often come with being followed by an interpreter all day.

“It makes me feel happy to know they started a sign language club,” Rhemy said through Tammy, “because I looooooove sign language.”

Twelve fifth-graders are breaking down barriers to communication, and they’re willing to sacrifice recess once a week for it — that’s a pretty big deal for any elementary school student.

Breaking Sound Barriers

Breaking barriers to communication and building bridges to connect with the deaf community is a growing trend, particularly in the arts. TIME Magazine reports that  Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles is “breaking boundaries by putting deaf actors and hearing actors on the same stage.”

Deaf actress Sandra Mae Frank plays the female lead in “Spring Awakening,” sharing the role with hearing actress Katie Boeck. The unique presentation of the Broadway musical shows audiences that stories can be told using all forms of communication, and the barriers between hearing and deaf people aren’t as high as once thought.

We love these stories of going above and beyond to break down barriers to communication because, through communication, we can share the greatest story ever told, the Gospel. So when we break down barriers to communication, we break down barriers to Jesus.

What’s something you can do to go above and beyond to break down barriers and connect with the people around you?

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