5th Grade Class Starts American Sign Language Club to Better Communicate with Deaf Student

PHOTO: Students at Mark Bills Middle School in Peoria, Illinois created a sign language club to better communicate with a deaf student.Tammy Arvin
Students at Mark Bills Middle School in Peoria, Illinois created a sign language club to better communicate with a deaf student.

Rhemy Elsey is a fifth grader at Mark Bills Middle School in Peoria, Illinois. He's been deaf since birth.

Though hearing implants allow him to hear, he mainly relies on American Sign Language to speak. He even has a translator that accompanies him throughout the school day.

But that wasn't enough for the students at Mark Bills, who, in an effort to better communicate with Rhemy, formed an ASL Club, trading in their lunch and recess time once a week to learn sign language.

Rhemy told ABC News via email that he's thrilled his classmates started the club because "they want to be like me." He added that he understands why his peers would want to learn how he communicates because "sign language is cool."

Tammy Arvin, Rhemy's translator and the instructor for the school's ASL Club, told ABC News she's already taught the students basic conversation and vocabulary words for items at school, food, clothing, and even the signs for family members.

Thanks to the ASL Club, Rhemy's been able to better communicate with his classmates.

Arvin added that since the club was formed, she's noticed that Rhemy has "gained confidence with his classmates and with expressing himself, and it's made it easier for the other students to approach him."

"The other neat thing about it for a deaf child in a mainstream situation, it can be really hard for them from a social and emotional standpoint to have an interpreter following them around all day long. It can feel somewhat isolating," Arvin, who has been a professional interpreter for three years, explained. "So it's wonderful to see him have interactions with students that are one-on-one and that are more natural interactions that make him feel less isolated in the school setting."

Not only has the club benefited Rhemy, but it's helped the students as well, Arvin noted.

"The students are just having fun," she said. "They don't necessarily realize they're learning ... about deaf culture by participating in this club. It really gives them a perspective on this other culture within the U.S. that they previously weren't aware [of], so they're benefiting ginormously just in terms of learning about diversity and having a broader perspective on the world around them."