St Elizabeth’s Catholic PS youngsters get the sign during Auslan classes

Teacher Marie Ware with Jake, Ashton, Nathaniel, Lillian, Sienna and Carma. Picture: Martin Kennealey
Teacher Marie Ware with Jake, Ashton, Nathaniel, Lillian, Sienna and Carma. Picture: Martin Kennealey

CHILDREN at a Hocking school are learning a language their principal hopes will contribute to a more inclusive society.

This year, the kindergarten to Year 2 students at St Elizabeth’s Catholic Primary School started learning Auslan, or Australian sign language.

Principal Carmel O’Shaughnessy was inspired to have it taught at the school after taking an Auslan course last year.

The Education Department introduced Auslan as a LOTE (languages other than English) subject in 2014 and though it is usually not taught until Year 3, Mrs O’Shaughnessy saw benefit in children starting earlier.

“We know the younger you are the more curious you are,” she said.

Auslan teacher Marie Ware, who is deaf, runs the classes once per week.

“She’s experienced and passionate about the general population having greater understanding (of Auslan),” Mrs O’Shaughnessy said.

Classroom teachers also sit in on the classes and support the learning by practising together regularly.

Mrs O’Shaughnessy said she was surprised how quickly the students had picked it up and how eager they were to learn.

Parents’ responses had been positive, with some wanting to do a course themselves, which she hoped to organise with Ms Ware in the future.

By the time the students leave in Year 6, it is expected they would be fluent in Auslan.

“My aim is that hopefully by then high schools might have picked up Auslan and we could have future interpreters, they could work for the Deaf Society, there are so many options,” she said.

Ms Ware said students had taken to Auslan like “ducks to water”.

“I am still amazed when attending their classes, they would greet me in sign language with ease and enthusiasm,” she said.

“(It’s) so wonderful to watch their facial expressions and lively hand signing away.”

She said children benefited from learning a second language and knowledge of Auslan promoted acceptance.

“Communication is important and should be recognised visually to expand their knowledge and kinaesthetic learning,” she said.

“Therefore, it is important for students to learn Auslan because it is easy, visual, Australian, it is not textbook and it is a beautifully expressive language for all ages and I would definitely encourage other schools to consider introducing Auslan.”

Mrs O’Shaughnessy believed it would give students greater understanding of all people in society and educate them about issues some other people face.

“They learn something they can take into their life,” she said.

“They will have greater awareness of our society in general; not everyone can hear and speak.”

She said it was “really exciting” and encouraged other schools to consider offering it as their LOTE subject.

According to the Education Department, in 2016 there were 15 WA public schools teaching Auslan while the Association of Independent Schools WA said none of its schools did, except for where needed for individual students with hearing impairment.

Mrs O’Shaughnessy believed St Elizabeth’s was the only WA Catholic school teaching it as a LOTE subject and Catholic Education WA could not confirm if any others were.

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