- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2001

WESTMINSTER, Md. — Most American children can't avoid daily lessons in English, even during summer vacation. With every conversation, they practice their language skills.

For deaf students, it's not that easy.

"They can't just sit in front of the TV and pick up information, or play with their neighbors," said Toby Daniels, using American Sign Language and an interpreter.

Mr. Daniels, who teaches at the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick, Md., is directing a storybook-themed summer camp where 22 deaf children will practice reading and writing in English.

"Harry Potter Literacy Camp 2001" is running for seven weeks at Western Maryland College.

Mr. Daniels and his interpreter, Michelle Fetterman, both graduated from the college's teacher-preparation program in deaf education, which works closely with the Maryland School for the Deaf.

Their day camp is one of two deaf-education programs at the college this summer. The second is an American Sign Language immersion camp to help hearing students talk with deaf friends.

The children at the Harry Potter camp are all fluent in sign language. But camp instructors say when deaf students read and write in English, they are essentially working with a foreign language.

"It's not a one-to-one translation, which means they're not signing in exact English," said Miss Fetterman, the day camp's only hearing instructor.

Sign-language sentences are structured differently than English ones, Miss Fetterman said. For example, the sign-language way of saying "I went to the store" translates directly to "I finish go to the store."

Ten-year-old Lauren Wahl, of Mount Airy, tried to describe the difference.

"American Sign Language is a sign language and English is a written language. You have to be able to translate," she signed while Miss Fetterman interpreted. "I'm a good signer, but sometimes it's hard to think in English."

Going from "spoken" sign language to written English is difficult enough, camp leaders said. Taking the summer off would only make the process harder, especially for children who come from families that communicate solely through sign language.

Only six of the 22 campers come from hearing families.

The children will practice English this summer using J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books. Each week, instructors will use the stories to teach a different subject for example, Harry Potter's potions will be used for a basic science lesson.

No matter what subject is being taught, students will complete activities with writing and finger-spelling — using an alphabet of hand signals to spell words in English.

Miss Fetterman said written English will one day serve as an important connection between the children and the hearing world.

"Everybody knows English. Everybody can write," Miss Fetterman said. "That's one of the reasons this is so important, so they know they have that avenue."

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