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Freyberg Middle School sign language teacher Jackie Davidson, left, talking to students Logan Jennens-Penketh and Melissa Hodson.
Palmerston North School is known for its efforts to promote sign language teaching.
This week is New Zealand Sign Language Week and Freyberg Middle School was recognized by the Deaf Aotearoa for its commitment to deaf education. Teacher Jackie Davidson received the New Zealand Sign Language award for his work.
Freyberg has long taught deaf students, but since 2015 the school has taught New Zealand Sign Language to anyone interested.
The school now offers sign language until year 13 and from next year it will become mandatory for Year 9 students.
Terry O’Brien is a former sign language teacher at Freyberg and he says when he started at the school in 1978, communication between staff and deaf students was verbal, so students were taught to listen and read lips.
She said it was a communication system for deaf people during the 1980s, but after the New Zealand Deaf Games in 1989, the Deaf community was introduced to New Zealand Sign Language and it is widely spoken.
O’Brien, who retired in 2016, said Freyberg became bilingual in the mid-1990s and sign language was being taught to hearing students.
O’Brien praised Davdison’s work and he says that Mike Alley, who started at Freyberg last year, is taking sign language teaching to the next level.
O’Brien says “oralism” is the language of communication, but sign language is the best way to learn information.
Sign language draws pictures with a person’s hand, he said.
Student Melissa Hodson, 15, is a listener and has been studying sign language for two years. He wants to continue learning.
“I want to learn another language and I want to have a job as a translator.”
Davidson is grateful to receive the award.
“I didn’t expect this, but I’ve always loved teaching, especially at Freyberg Middle School.”
Freyberg school principal Peter Brooks said 131 students were learning sign language at five levels and Freyberg was the only public high school in New Zealand that taught sign language.
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