In two separate shows last Thursday, a group of students from Lecanto Middle School danced and sang and spread a special message.
The performers were a mix of hearing-impaired and hearing students, and they wanted the audience to know that the hearing-impaired performers were successful at singing and dancing and enjoyed it as much as their hearing peers.
The show, Let's Get Together, was organized by the school's educational interpreter, Janie Stevens, who works with one deaf and two hearing-impaired students at Lecanto Middle. "The main gist of it was to show that people can get along regardless of different backgrounds and disabilities," she said.
In December, Stevens organized an after-school sign language class for interested sixth-graders. They were the performers in Thursday's shows. The hearing students not only learned to communicate with their hearing-impaired classmates, but the hearing-impaired students made friends.
Let's Get Together consisted of ten songs performed by Stevens' sign language class. The stars were the three students with varying degrees of hearing loss, Scott Jackson, Patty Keen and Richie Wiemann.
Some of the numbers included Gonna Make You Sweat, a dance by the hearing-impaired students, Because You Love Me, which Stevens said was a real tear-jerker, and Men In Black, in which Scott and Richie were joined by hearing student Mike Vasaya.
Stevens had done this kind of show during her years at Crystal River Primary School and had created an awareness of disabilities among the student body. New this year at Lecanto, she was eager to help the hearing children recognize how similar hearing-impaired children are to them rather than having them dwell on the differences. "We want to focus on what they can do rather than what they can't do," she said.
Feedback from the shows has been positive and enthusiastic. The audience loved it, she said, and showed their appreciation by waving their hands in the air _ applause for the hearing-impaired. The entertainers are dying to do it again, and Stevens hopes she can organize another performance.
Stevens' isn't sure when she became interested in sign language but says it may have stemmed from contact she had with deaf people way back. "For some reason," she said, "it has always intrigued me."
She said she is self-taught to some extent but has taken enough courses and workshops to be an educational interpreter and have Educational Interpreter Evaluation, Level II, (EIE) certification. She also can interpret outside of school situations.
She wants to encourage interest in the language, hence the class and the shows. It's just something she really appreciates. "I've always thought of sign language as a beautiful language," she said.