Signing On For Lesson In Life

Published 5:00 pm Sunday, May 16, 2010

A visitor strolls into the room, and on her cue thesecond-graders raise both hands high and twist them, wiggling theirfingers and shouting and giggling.

It’s the sign language gesture for “deaf applause,” and theyconvey the message without speaking a word. Linda Crozier hastaught them well, and she’s taught them for 13 years.

“Doing this makes you blessed, even more than they are,” shesaid. “I’ve gotten to know all the kids in my grandchildren’sclasses. Our kids need us to be involved.”

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Beginning with the 1996-97 school year, Crozier beganvolunteering on a weekly basis to teach sign language to the youngstudents at Mamie Martin Elementary School and BrookhavenElementary School.

Crozier has taught hundreds of them how to sign their names, thealphabet, to say hello and thank-you and much more. She began herquest when the first of her nine grandchildren entered the schoolsystem, and she’s followed each one through to the third- orfourth-grade and returned to pick up the next one.

Students leave Crozier with some knowledge of sign language, butit’s another fact of life she instills in them that is mostimportant.

“I teach them so they’re not afraid of deaf people, because alot of children really are,” she said. “They haven’t been exposedto that. Over the years, they’ve learned that they’re really justlike us.”

Crozier’s dedication to sign language began in 1977 when she mether first signer and lifelong friend, Mary Laird, at EasthavenBaptist Church. Mary and her husband, Randy, began attending achurch that was devoid of any signing knowledge, and thecongregation was unable to communicate with them.

They began to learn, slowly.

Crozier learned the basics from the Lairds a little at a timeand later went to Hinds Community College to polish her skills. Shewas fluent in about two years and soon turned her newfound skillsover to God.

“I started interpreting the church services,” Crozier said. “Wehad an elderly couple who were deaf begin attending our church, andwe were able to bring them to Jesus through signing. It wasawesome.”

Crozier moved to First Baptist Church of Brookhaven in 1984 butreturned to Easthaven occasionally to sign during the service whenMary Laird was unavailable. Over the years, she volunteered herservices in hospitals and courtrooms when called upon.

Crozier’s signing skills even helped her raise her children,though the young Croziers often objected.

“They learn to talk to you in church, when they’re sitting up inthe balcony as teenagers you can tell them, ‘Stop talking. Openyour book and sing,'” she said.

When she’s in front of the elementary students, Crozier makesher lessons as fun as possible. She dropped by the second-gradeclass of her granddaughter, 8-year-old Chaney Crozier, on Friday,the school’s end-of-the-year Fun Day, and was laden with prizes andgoodies of all sorts.

It was a blast for the students, but the learning continued.

“You don’t interpret word-for-word, you interpret thought,”Crozier said. “We use many words that are unnecessary in theEnglish language. And most deaf people don’t use long sentences,they just use the words they need, the words that are necessary tocommunicate.”

Mamie Martin second-grade teacher Sarah Russ called Crozier a”great resource” for her classroom, saying the weekly sign languagelessons enrich her students.

“The best part is my students get to see someone with a giftshowing their enthusiasm,” she said.

Crozier’s had a strong run through several classes of studentsin the Brookhaven schools, but her time as a volunteer languageteacher may be coming to end. The grandkids are getting older, andwhen there are no more working up through the elementary grades,she’ll step back and let the next volunteer prophet take herplace.

“It may be my last year. I have to see what next year brings,”Crozier said. “It depends on the need. I’ve always serviced theneed.”