St. Gregory’s students begin learning sign language in kindergarten.

Third grade teacher Jamie Casteel took sign language courses in college and keeps her skills up to date as an adjunct professor at Northwest teaching introductory sign language classes.

Eleven years ago, when Casteel was teaching second grade, the kindergarten teacher approached her with a partnership idea. Casteel’s second grade class would partner with the younger class every week to learn sign language together. Now, Casteel is teaching third grade and continues the tradition with the kindergarten class.

Casteel said teaching younger students helps the third graders remember the material and helps the kindergartners with finger placement.

The students learn basic words including the alphabet, numbers, colors, family titles, emotions, animals and shapes. They play games such as I Spy in sign language and learn how to sign complete songs.

“We start out with the alphabet; it helps us with our letters, dexterity and allows them to work with the older kids,” Andrea Parman, kindergarten teacher, said.

Casteel says it is a great classroom management tool as well. She can sign to the students to be quiet or get into line without having to talk over them. The signs require cross body movement, memory exercise and help students use their less dominant hand.

At the end of the year, the classes sign a song during the school music program.

“We don’t have a deaf community here and I think it is helpful for them to be aware of the deaf community,” Casteel said. “You never know when it will be useful. You hear stories of people who help save a stranger’s life because they were able to communicate with them when responders could not. The kids think it is fun. It’s a chance for them to be leaders and role models.”