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North Kitsap ASL students sign for change

Students in Karen Johnston’s North Kitsap High School American Sign Language class and Susan Barrett’s Life Skills program sign to music May 29. Johnston’s ASL students have been helping Barrett’s learn sign language in preparation to a performance June 9 at the Christian Center in Poulsbo’s First Lutheran Church. The performance is part of a project started by the ASL students called “Signing for Change.”                                                          - Kipp Robertson / Herald
Students in Karen Johnston’s North Kitsap High School American Sign Language class and Susan Barrett’s Life Skills program sign to music May 29. Johnston’s ASL students have been helping Barrett’s learn sign language in preparation to a performance June 9 at the Christian Center in Poulsbo’s First Lutheran Church. The performance is part of a project started by the ASL students called “Signing for Change.”
— image credit: Kipp Robertson / Herald

POULSBO — Before Emily Calder and her peers at North Kitsap High School began the “Signing for Change” project, she did not realize the scale of homelessness in Kitsap.

The sophomore and the rest of the American Sign Language class were given statistics.

“It seems crazy,” she said. “There are so many homeless people … we didn’t even know.”

But the classroom project that began just before spring break has evolved. The sign language students are currently in the middle of a fundraising campaign, selling bracelets for $2. A performance at the First Lutheran Church Christian Center in Poulsbo is scheduled for June 9 at 7 p.m.. Tickets are $3. The money raised from both will be donated to Bremerton’s Kitsap StandUp for Kids and the Pazapa Center for Handicapped Children in Jacmel, Haiti.

StandUp for Kids is a national nonprofit volunteer organization focused on helping at-risk and homeless kids. Josephine Clark, executive director of the Bremerton chapter, said the need is great in the area. The program provides approximately $600 every month to provide food to those in need. About 180 snacks are provided per day around the county and 21 kids are being fed three meals a day on the weekend.

In the Poulsbo area, about 150 homeless kids have been identified. Though the StandUp program has not completely extended its reach to the north end — Coffee Oasis has been approved to create a teen center in Poulsbo — the help by the ASL students is appreciated.

“It’s wonderful,” Clark said. The director found out about the fundraising project less than a week ago, it was a pleasant surprise. “If that idea could spread to all the high schools…”

American Sign Language instructor Karen Johnston expects to raise about $1,500 between bracelet sales and the performance. The performance will include students from Johnston’s class and Susan Barrett’s Life Skills program, signing to 20 songs.

So far, bracelet sales have raised approximately $300.

“Signing for Change” is an effort to give back to the community by raising awareness and helping local organizations, according to its website. The group wants to spread its inspiration through performances, small deeds and community service. There are approximately 150 students involved.

The idea of a performance developed when Johnston’s high school classes met with participants in Life Skills — a program for people 18-21 years old with various disabilities that prepares them to be more independent — to help teach them signing. The two groups began signing to music. After that, the activities “started to snowball,” Johnston said.

Along with applying what they learn in class, Johnston wanted to see if she could change students’ focus from relationships, sports and prom, to something that has more of an impact.

“Students are always talking about things that are so minor in the scheme of things,” she said. “I Wanted to give them something bigger to think about and talk about.”

The project has grown outside of the classroom. Students are working on it on their own time. Johnston is a facilitator, helping guide the students, but they are doing the legwork. In preparation of the performance students have designed the logo, will get the tickets printed — by donation — designed flyers, worked with the schools Associated Student Body for funding and will get T-shirts printed.

The church is donating its space for the event.

“We’ve had amazing support,” Johnston said.

Megan Helsley, a junior at North Kitsap, said the bracelets alone have helped others understand what the ASL students are trying to accomplish. Although students don’t always have a few extra bucks to spend, it’s benefitted their cause.

“I think the bracelets are really important,” she said. “People ask you about it … And we’re able to spread the word.”

When the project first started, Johnston said her students were overwhelmed. They had to find an organization to benefit, which showed them just how much need there is in the area.

Now the students are preparing for a performance and helping a school in Haiti. There are plans to sell online videos following the performance to generate more money for the two beneficiaries.

Both Johnston’s students and Barrett’s Life Skills participants have grown attached to the project. Though the people in Barrett’s program are finished with the high school, it is a chance to interact with others and acts as a break in the day. Barrett said it’s quickly spreading through the community as parents find out.

And Johnston said her students “cherish” the interaction just as much.

After Clark met with the ASL students for the first time, she said they were “so enthusiastic.” She heard they were talking about spreading the project through the high school.

Clark encourages anybody working with homeless or at-risk kids should practice empathy, rather than scorning or laughing at them. “That’s obviously what the ASL group has done,” Clark said. “They’re reaching out … Teens helping teens.”

Visit “Signing for Change” online: https://www.facebook.com/signingforchange.

 

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