Dozens of elementary and middle level students from around Illinois will showcase their skills at the Fingerspelling Bee on Illinois State’s campus, Thursday, April 21, at 11 a.m. in Prairie Room South at the Bone Student Center.
Unlike other spelling bees, not a single word will be spoken during the competition. A word presenter will sign the word, and the student competitor will spell out each letter of the word using American Sign Language (ASL). They’ll have 30 seconds to spell each letter of the word, and three judges will determine accuracy. Competitors include students grades five through eight who have some or complete hearing loss.
The Fingerspelling Bee is sponsored and organized by the Illinois Teachers of Hard of Hearing/Deaf Individuals (ITHI), but Illinois State has multiple ties to the event. Alumna Mallory McGreehin ’10 is a member of ITHI and the Fingerspelling Bee event chair; Deaf Redbirds Association (DRA) Treasurer Jamie Stone and her student organization are volunteering to support the competition; and Professor Maribeth Lartz and Assistant Instructional Professor Stephanie Lipe from the Department of Special Education will serve as judges.
McGreehin, who is in her sixth year of teaching at the Eisenhower Cooperative in Crestwood, said the “bee” immediately appealed to her when she joined ITHI in 2013.
“There are very few opportunities that are designated for deaf and hard of hearing students,” she said. “Our students have an opportunity to compete against their deaf and hard of hearing peers and access the same information using sign language. This also gives them a chance to socialize and meet other students that have a hearing loss.”
McGreehin said these students are often the only ones in their class, or even their schools, with hearing loss. But this event enables deaf or hard of hearing students to showcase their talents alongside their peers and elicit a well-deserved sense of pride.
The Fingerspelling Bee is also a powerful opportunity for special education majors, particularly deaf and hard of hearing education majors, to learn how to empower their future students.
“This event will show future teachers that students who are deaf or hard of hearing can participate in the same type of extracurricular activities that hearing students do—with appropriate accommodations!” Lartz said. “I think it will also give them ideas for how they might lead or support educational events like this in the future.”
DRA members jumped at the opportunity to promote and help out at the competition, and many others plan to attend the competition.
“We’re excited to see how it plays out,” Stone said. “I think the kids are enthusiastic about participating and it will be fun to see how well they all do!”
McGreehin hopes to make the competition more frequent in the future, both to benefit the students and to spread awareness about the capabilities of individuals with hearing loss or deafness.
“ITHI is proud to offer events and opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing students in the state of Illinois,” McGreehin said.
A recap of the event will be available next Friday, April 22, at Education.IllinoisState.edu.