Matt Arthur Elementary School has been named a 2018 Georgia School Bell Award winner by the Georgia Association of Elementary School Principals (GAESP). The award will be presented in November during the GAESP conference held in Savannah.
The GAESP presents this award each year to recognize no more than 10 schools which have outstanding programs in the area of curriculum and organizational leadership. Matt Arthur Elementary won the award for its Silent Knights Signing Club, an inclusive deaf education initiative.
Thisinteractive, after-school club teaches students to use sign language. Hearing losscan be difficult for others to recognize and understand, so often deaf and hard of hearing individuals feel isolated. Students in grades 2-5 also learn about the deaf culture to help them communicate and socialize with their deaf and hard of hearing peers. The deaf and hard of hearing students increase their confidence, improve self-advocacy skills and become more active in school.
Principal Dr. VaRee Harrell commented, “Silent Knights allows our deaf children to speak with their hands and their hearing classmates to listen with their eyes. Our club advocates on behalf of our deaf and hard of hearing students by educating others about their unique needs. This club provides a nurturing environment for children to be children, to learn about one another and form friendships. It’s phenomenal when students advocate for themselves, not allowing their disability to become a handicap! It’s also heartwarming when their hearing friends passionately explain about hearing loss and sign language in an accurate, informative manner.”
This year the school will expand the program to include an adult edition which will be open to the families of deaf students and school employees. The adults will learn basic sign language and gain an understanding hearing loss and amplification devices in the home, classroom, and community setting. In addition, the school hopes to use Skype to connect with other schools with deaf and hard of hearing students. By interacting with other signers, the hope is that students will gain a greater understanding that sign language is not the same everywhere, hence regional signs, and that their acquired signing skills can be used to communicate with all signers. The goal is to deepen the appreciation for the language and culture and to create an enthusiasm for learning.
In 2017-18, the club had 80 members, making it the largest after school club at the school and the only sign language club in Houston County. Members of the club are pictured with sponsor Kathy Releford and interpreters who assist, Christy Hall and Rene Langlois.
Matt Arthur Elementary School is located at 2500 Highway 127 in Kathleen. Dr. VaRee Harrell serves as principal. For more information, please contact Dr. Harrell at 478-988-6170.