Cindy Gilliam, first grade teacher at North Coffee Elementary School, teaches her class sign language to make sure all students can communicate with each other.

One of Gilliam’s students, Keke Pritchard, is nonverbal, and now she can interact with the class more easily.

“We have a meeting every morning,” Gilliam said. “We gather together and we have a topic we talk about. And because Keke, my student with Down syndrome is nonverbal, we started learning a sign every morning to help us communicate with her. Now Keke can communicate with us.

“It’s very helpful and the kids love it. Keke uses it, and the kids go home and use it with their parents, so it’s been really good.”

Keke enjoys using sign language to communicate with her classmates.

“She loves it,” Gilliam said. “She uses her signs through the day. She uses sign language at school, and the kids can communicate with her – that’s just wonderful to see.”

Adam Clark, principal of North Coffee Elementary School, praised Gilliam.

“We have a lot of amazing teachers at North Coffee,” Clark said, adding Gilliam has gone above and beyond.

“There was not a requirement for her to teach sign,” Clark said. “But because of the needs of her classroom, she wanted to help her kids be able to communicate with a student in the room that is nonverbal.”

Education involves more than teaching the required subjects – it involves developing communications skills.

“Connections are huge in education,” Clark said. “Academics are a wonderful thing, but if there’s no connection – amongst the adults and the students and the students, amongst each other – you can’t push kids as far as (they could reach). Connections are vitally important, and (Keke) can now have a way to communicate with her peers because they have a common language – they can both sign.”

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