For much of the “minicourse” class period at Kennedy Middle School last week, the sounds of silence filled the room as Damion Bell gave students a lesson in signing.
A 2012 South Aiken High School graduate, Bell has been deaf since birth.
“It’s important for me to do this,” he said through interpreter Marlene Lewis. “I just start with ABCs, showing them the alphabet and seeing them grow with their communication. You never know who you’re going to run across.”
Each year Kennedy Middle School offers students minicourses, with community residents providing three sessions on any number of topics. Bell was delighted how well the students in his class were doing on just their second session.
At his request, students filled out their names on pieces of paper, which were then handed out randomly to other students. Each, in turn, then had to spell out the name of another person and that student would raise his hand if he recognized it. The students did remarkably well signing and responding to it.
“Sign language is coming to a lot of television shows,” said student Olivia Boice. “I really enjoy it, and I thought this would be a place to learn it and pick up the letters.”
Bell also showed the students the equipment that he can use for communication needs every day.
“I have a video phone that I can use in sign language to somebody else,” he said. “I’ve also got a clock with a wake-up light that lets me know in a flash.”
Such devices can be provided to Bell at no cost. Smartphones also have been a great addition in recent years. He can even sign one on one on the phone, but text messages are even better for friends and especially his mother: “Where are you, Mom? Call me. I love you.”
Bell previously attended Kennedy, where teacher Ann Fox Smith taught him and three other deaf students through sign language in a special English class. He was devastated when Smith was murdered at her home in 2008.
A year later, Bell chose to return to the school to teach with the minicourse program. He always does so in the classroom of Jennifer Morlan, Smith’s best friend.
“I love running into Damion in the community, and I always want him in my room,” Morlan said. “The kids always say how much they enjoy it. He brings them a better understanding of the challenges that deaf people face and how they can adapt.”