Redmond Early Learning Center finds creative solution for communication problem

The cafeteria at the Redmond Early Learning Center (RELC) becomes a very loud place every day during lunch. RELC is the district’s in-town kindergarten facility, serving nearly 400 kindergartners (known as Honeybees) within the Redmond School District. During lunch, the cafeteria sees 100 kinders at a time for lunches between 11:20 a.m. to 1:05 p.m.

Recently, volume became such an issue that teachers and staff weren’t able to effectively communicate with students over the excited chatter and buzzing of RELC Honeybees.

A team of instructional assistants (IAs) came up with a solution to not only overcome the communication breakdown, but teach the talkative kindergarteners a valuable new skill at the same time: sign language.

Toward the end of 2018, IAs Jennifer Merydith, Aundrea Poole, Gina Detweiler, Keturah Kinsman and Robin Boivie began to brainstorm ways to solve the cafeteria communication issue. The team landed on sign language as a possible solution and began to research key signs. After returning from Christmas break, they taught the signs to two kindergartners with who they made a video of signing words like “ketchup,” “fork,” “water,” and “spoon.” The video was then used to teach the other Honeybees the signs––who only required about a week to pick up the sign language.

Instructional Assistants, or IAs, take on a variety of tasks throughout the day, supporting both teachers and students through instruction, supervision and technology in the classroom.

“Our IA team is amazing,” said Lisa Burgher, student services coordinator for RELC. “They problem-solved the communication issue from start to finish, working hard to come up with a solution and teaching our kindergartners how to effectively communicate in a noisy lunchroom.”

Along with the video, the IAs created posters with pictures of the selected signs and placed them around the cafeteria as reminders for the students.

“While we originally came up with using sign language as a way to decrease the volume in the cafeteria, we quickly realized it also increased efficiency by allowing us to communicate across a crowded room instead of walking over to each individual student,” explained Instructional Assistant Gina Detweiler. “Their needs are being met much quicker and we’ve done away with a lot of the frustration kindergarten-age children can experience when they feel unheard.”

Since teaching the Honeybees some key sign language words, the cafeteria is a lot quieter, calmer and students are having fun trying out their new language.

“It sounds a little funny, but until you’ve been in our cafeteria you don’t realize how important it is to be able to sign “ketchup” from across the room,” Detweiler said. “I’m pleased to be a part of a team that was able to come up with a productive solution and add to our students’ education experience.”