Sign language is a daily part of life at Shipley's Choice Elementary School.
Each day, hearing students are taught how to translate a piece of a sentence. By the end of the week, they can sign the entire sentence.
The morning sign language exercises, broadcast over closed-circuit television to all classrooms, is one reason why the Millersville school is one of eight Maryland Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence.
The recognition program, run by the Maryland State Department of Education, honors schools that excel in such areas as leadership, teaching and student environment, curriculum, parent involvement and student performance on assessment exams.
Each school received a plaque at a luncheon yesterday in Baltimore County. Four of them, but not Shipley's Choice, will compete for recognition in the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Education in collaboration with the White House.
Nevertheless, all the schools should be proud of their achievements, said Darla Strouse, a Maryland State Department of Education spokeswoman.
And they were.
The sign language exercises at Shipley's Choice began five years ago as an offshoot of the Buddy-Buddy program, which pairs students with classmates in the special education program to help them academically and socially. The students share their lunch and recess time with hearing impaired, developmentally delayed or autistic students.
Both programs were the idea of Lynne Friend, the school's speech pathologist. Then-President George Bush recognized the school's Buddy-Buddy program as one of the nation's Thousand Points of Light in 1991, said Ms. Friend.
She and other teachers praised Principal Mary Ellen Street for encouraging them to try new approaches to teaching.
Ms. Street returned the praise. The teachers "are committed to having children learn, and they are receptive to change," she said.
What Shipley's Choice has achieved is an example of cooperation among students, teachers and parents, Ms. Street said.
"I really appreciate the teacher concern," said Linda Smith, whose son, Michael, is in the fifth grade at Shipley's Choice.
She attributes some of Shipley's success to "the quality of the teaching and the concern that I've seen teachers devote to the children to make sure they learn.
"They don't just put in the time."
Ms. Smith and other parents volunteer at the school, providing such services as guest reading and helping with clerical work.
"Everybody wants the children to excel, wants them to learn and wants them to get the best education," said Vickie Wardell, a fourth-grade teacher at Shipley's Choice.