"It just really warms my heart when I see the looks on their faces, because they understand the songs now."
When Talking Hands performed "Frosty the Snowman" and other familiar Christmas carols for dozens of children at the MacArthur Center's ice palace in Suffolk, Virginia, it was like music to their ears. However, the children in attendance couldn’t actually hear the jolly chorus of the song or the "thumpety thump thump" refrain. But thanks to the members of Lakeland High School’s sign language club, they were able to understand the lyrics and cheerful message of each festive song.
Seven student performers of the Talking Hands American Sign Language club entertained deaf and hard-of-hearing children from Hampton Roads public schools on Tuesday, November 14. Camron Ellis of Portsmouth, Virginia, was just one of the many kids visually moved by the hands and fingers moving in unison to the Yuletide rhythm. The five-year-old, according to his grandmother, waits in anticipation for the Christmas program every year. Now, in its fifth year, the Talking Hands holiday event is heralded by community members, parents, and, of course, the children.
"He’s always excited about this," said Temekka Ellis, who is Camron’s grandmother. "He looks forward to this every year. This is our third time here."
Camron, like most of the kids in the audience, was born with profound hearing loss. As a result, he wears cochlear implants, which is a hearing aid device used to amplify sounds. But Camron isn’t letting a hearing impairment stop him from enjoying the sights and sounds of "Jingle Bells." No, he, along with the other deaf children in the crowd, attempted to imitate the sign language group’s every hand movement during the popular song.
"For me, this is about the kids," said Lakeland High School senior Ray Liverman, who took up sign language three years ago. "I saw what this group was doing and I like the Christmas songs, so I just started in the class. I know it sounds sappy, but it just really warms my heart when I see the looks on their faces, because they understand the songs now."
In addition to signed carols, the Christmas concert also had a signing Santa to receive the children’s holiday wish lists. The young attendees also made snow angels and snowballs from the artificial white snow dusting the floor and were treated to Santa’s refreshment of choice—milk and cookies.
"This is probably the only time these deaf kids get to see Christmas carols in sign," said Lakeland’s American signing teacher, Anita Fisher. "We started preparing the first week in October and have been practicing for a couple of weeks. It’s good for the kids and for my students."
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Talking Hands will perform at several Suffolk-area elementary schools in the coming weeks leading up to Christmas.