Community ASL classes meant to increase awareness

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Pamela Vaal of St. Meinrad signs with her grandson, Bently Patmore, 9, of Lamar, during a community American Sign Language class at Lincoln Trail Elementary in Lamar on Tuesday. Vaal is taking the classes to learn ASL to communicate with her granddaughter, Aria, who is deaf. "I love seeing her eyes light up when she knows I understand and we talk to each other," Vaal said. "It makes my heart so happy. I need to learn as much as I can so I'll be able to communicate with her."


LAMAR — Anthony and Kayla Patmore of Lamar are on a mission to increase deaf awareness in their community.

The couple’s youngest child, Aria, 3, was born deaf. For the first year of Aria’s life, Anthony said, things were OK, but once she turned 2, life has become more difficult because there’s not a way for Anthony, Kayla or Aria’s four siblings to communicate with her. To remedy that, the whole family decided to take sign language lessons together and offer lessons to Aria’s future teachers in the North Spencer County School Corporation and to the community at large.

“We would love to see more deaf awareness around here,” Anthony said.

That’s where Anthony’s cousin, Laurie VanConia of Evanston comes in. VanConia is an education consultant for deaf and hard of hearing students in Kentucky. Since she’s fluent in American Sign Language, she offered to teach Anthony and his family.

Laurie VanConia of Evanston, who volunteers her time to teach ASL to the community, signs "girl" to Aria Patmore, 3, of Lamar at a class held at Lincoln Trail Elementary in Lamar on Tuesday. VanConia, a family member of Aria's, wanted to help the family, but also get the community more involved.

She also volunteers her time to offer the community classes. Last spring, she held an eight-week lesson series in Chrisney, and the community wanted more.

Last week, VanConia kicked off another series of lessons held in Lamar at Lincoln Trail Elementary. The lessons cover basic sign language and take place from 6 to 7 p.m. CT on Tuesdays for North Spencer school staff and from 7 to 8 p.m. CT for community members. The classes are free, and the later session is open to the public.

VanConia uses the StartASL curriculum in her lessons. She chose the curriculum because the site,, offers a lot of free resources online for people to continue learning on their own. Although students could pursue their entire sign language education online, VanConia recommends starting with a live instructor.

“The biggest thing is people will learn the sign incorrectly,” she said. “I’m here to make sure they’re forming the signs right ... If I can get you started, you can pick it up and continue.”

She also weaves information about deaf culture into her lessons.

VanConia’s lessons at Lincoln Trail will cover the alphabet and finger spelling — using sign language to spell words you don’t know how to sign — as well as basic conversations such as greetings. From there, the classes will move into food, drinks and numbers. If she can go further in the eight weeks, she will, but VanConia is going to make sure people master the skills before moving on.

Although the classes have already begun, VanConia said people can still jump in. They may feel behind during the group activities or conversations, but she said people usually pick it up quickly. The class is capped at 30, and 17 people attended the first one.

Bralin Patmore, 6, of Lamar, points toward her brother, Bently, 9, as he finger spells his name in sign language during a community ASL class held at Lincoln Trail Elementary in Lamar on Tuesday. Bralin and Bently's sister, Aria, is deaf and their family pushed to create a class for themselves, the community and school staff to learn sign language to communicate with deaf individuals.
Kayla Patmore, second from right, holds her daughter, Aria, 3, of Lamar, while playing a sign language game during a community ASL class held at Lincoln Trail Elementary in Lamar on Tuesday.

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