LAND O’ LAKES — Pine View Middle School student conversations were lively, but they included no words. Students were trying out American Sign Language, led by award-winning teacher Nancy Barbara.
In July, Barbara was recognized as National 2017-2018 Canvas Middle School Teacher of the Year in a Denver ceremony. An elementary teacher from Texas and a high school teacher from Wyoming also were honored.
Barbara became leader of the Pasco eSchool American Sign Language Program in 2015, and Canvas was her online learning management system. She developed curriculum offering American Sign Language online for the Pine View Middle School International Baccalaureate program.
Barbara introduced the American Sign Language program to Pine View students, face-to-face, the first week of school. Her hands in motion as she spoke, she directed students to raise both hands with fingers spread and to shake their hands. Then she congratulated them on learning the sign for applauding.
The students smiled as Barbara moved through another half dozen signs, the students copying her movements.
Three hundred students are taking the Pine View American Sign Language class, and the number is expected to grow.
A few minutes into class, Barbara stopped signing.
"Let me tell you a little about myself," she said. "I grew up with parents who were both deaf, and my early language until I was about 6 was signing."
Barbara remembers hearing her college-educated parents called "stupid" because they couldn’t talk. Her father owned restaurants, and her mother was a graphic artist.
Barbara learned early that building culture knowledge of deaf individuals was paramount. She wrote that into the curriculum and encourages students to communicate whenever possible with deaf individuals.
Barbara earned her undergraduate degree from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and a graduate degree from New York University. Since 1976, she has helped students learn American Sign Language and understand the world of deaf people.
"People who speak any foreign language have their own culture," she told students. "The same is true of deaf people."
Barbara has been a faculty member of Hillsborough Community College since 1984, is an adjunct faculty member at the University of North Florida and taught at the University of South Florida.
Danny Sesker, learning design coach at Pasco eSchool, nominated Barbara for the Canvas Award, and eSchool principal Joanne Glenn pushed it forward.
"The focus should not be on just one teacher," Barbara said. "The focus should be on the schools who support teachers who guide students toward success."
She heaps praise on eSchool and Pine View administrators, especially principal Jennifer Warren, saying they are exceptional in their work of leading faculty and students.
Times Correspondent Gail Diederich is a retired teacher. She has 32 years of experience, including 28 years in Pasco County Schools, where she taught gifted students and was a reading specialist. She also taught education, general studies and business leadership at Pasco Hernando State College and at Saint Leo University.