SPRING HILL — When Liz Sells has lunch with the club she advises at Explorer K-8 School, the students are very quiet. They can also have a little trouble eating. That's because they are talking with their hands.
Sells is an interpreter with the school's deaf and hard-of-hearing program, and the students with whom she sometimes lunches are members of her American Sign Language Club. The group formed in November with about eight students and now has about 20.
"As an interpreter, I had so many students coming up to me saying, 'I want to learn sign language,' " Sells said. "The reason they wanted to learn sign language was to talk to Luca-Bella Bonanno-White."
Sells is Luca-Bella's interpreter. Luca-Bella is a deaf fourth-grader and a classmate of some of the club's members. She has been a classmate of some of the students since first grade.
Sells began the club simply enough.
"I started with the alphabet," she said. "But one of the first things they learned was the Pledge of Allegiance. Several of them mastered it."
For Dr. Seuss' birthday, the students learned a line from his book Oh, The Places You'll Go.
"What we do at meetings, when there's a holiday coming we learn a song," said fourth-grader Meryah Delaine, 9.
At Christmas, those were Here Comes Santa Claus and Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. At Thanksgiving, the students learned how to say "pass the gravy."
"We're also going to perform at the spring concert," Sells said. "We're going to perform with the middle school chorus."
The silent lunches are a favorite of the group and are usually once a week.
"We're trying to do it every Wednesday," said fourth-grader Eliza Holmes, 11. "It doesn't always happen, though."
When they do happen, "You're not allowed to talk, and you have to sign what you're saying," said fourth-grader Daelyn Kimble, 9.
"It's impossible to eat," said Kaeli Gaquer, 9, "because you have to eat and talk and pick up your food with a fork."
"They do very well," Sells said. "I thought they'd last 10 minutes, but the entire lunch they were quiet."
Fourth-grader Destiny Sellers, 9, said the silent lunches are good practice so that the words come automatically.
Besides the alphabet, songs, words and phrases, the students learn other lessons during their meetings.
"We usually learn some sign language," said Jada Martinez, 9. "Last week we learned about the deaf culture."
The club includes third- and fourth-graders now, but is open to every grade level. Members recently put up posters advertising the organization, wanting to spread this useful skill.
"It's like talking in another language," Taylor Gilpin said.