Tuesday, 8 a.m.
It's a regular date of sorts between students in Rhonda Leslie's first-period American Sign Language class at Sunlake High and a group of hearing-impaired students in another classroom at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.
It's an ongoing relationship that began last year when Leslie took her students on a field trip to the St. Augustine residential school. For about a month now, these students on opposite coasts have been sidling up to Apple Notebook computers every Tuesday morning for a little face-to-face conversation via the Internet telephone and videophone software application Skype.
"It's mostly small talk," said Elaina Graham, 16, who spent much of the class period signing alongside classmate, Roxanne Null, 16. "Mostly just things like where they are from, what they do in school — sports — things like that."
Invariably the conversation wanders some, as Rebecca Hisamoto, 16, Gabriella Texidor, 16, Desiree Daluz, 16, and Madison Zimmerman, 17, found out during last week's session.
"There's some major flirting going on here. Not from us, but them," said Madison, laughing as her fingers worked fast to answer the question posed in cyberspace as to who was "single" and who wasn't within the Sunlake group.
And if there's any misunderstanding as to what has been said, there's always the keyboard to fall back on.
The program offers students a unique way to hone their signing skills, Leslie said. "The students get to connect socially, but also language-wise."
Of course there have been a few kinks to work out. "The only issue with technology," Leslie said, "is that you're at the mercy of it."
From time to time, someone in the classroom is complaining about not being able to sign on or getting "kicked off."
"It's good — it's great that you can see who you're talking to. But if they sign too fast, it (the Skype program) kind of lags," said Lacy Maddox, 17, noting that she also uses Skype at home to talk to her cheerleading coach, who is now serving in Iraq.
Leslie said she plans to expand the Skype sign language program so that her students could interact with others throughout the country. That would help them get more of a grasp as to the regional differences that crop up with American Sign Language.
"This takes the classroom outside the walls here," Leslie said. "We get to go out into the world so to speak."