Molly Hopson, 17, commands a class of fidgety kindergartners with nothing more than confidence and a bag of black gloves.
Getting 5-year-olds to sit still and arrange their fingers to form words in American Sign Language isn’t easy.
Hopson, who seems perfectly at home in front of a class, has a system, however.
For her senior project at Village Academy, a private school in Powell near Columbus, she has devised a way of instructing youngsters in sign language.
Simple and effective, it might never have happened if Hopson had done better at freshman Spanish.
“I was taking Spanish, and it wasn’t working,” she said. “I wasn’t doing very well in the class.”
So she switched to American Sign Language and fell in love.
She also loves children.
When the time came to select a senior project, she put the two together.
Her idea: to color-code the fingers of gloves using dots of paint. Instead of using terms such as “pinkie” or “index finger” when instructing kindergartners, she names the corresponding colors.
“I thought it was wonderful,” said Kathy Morgan, a Village Academy teacher who is advising Hopson on the project.
In 25 years of teaching there, Morgan has seen plenty of projects but no other involving sign language.
Hopson chose her mother as her test subject.
“She actually took the first sign-language class with me, and she wasn’t as good as I was,” the daughter said. “Her fingers, she’d always get them tangled. So I tested it on her, and she said it worked great.”
It has proved similarly effective with the youngsters.
She gave the kindergarten class taught by Nicole Callahan a week’s worth of instruction earlier this fall, followed by regular refreshers.
“They started remembering things right away,” Hopson said. “The first day — within, like, 20 minutes — they got through the alphabet. They got through three days of work I’d planned out in one day.”
She gives each child a black glove and covers the signs in different categories: numbers, food, the alphabet.
“Put your red in between your blue and your white,” she says as the students arrange their fingers to make an “m.”
Later, gloves off, they switch to animals, with the alligator sign (as in the University of Florida Gators gesture) a favorite.
She will write a paper on the project and present it to a panel of reviewers before graduation.
She plans to attend either John Carroll or Wittenberg university next fall as an education major.
These days, when she passes the kindergartners in the hallways at Village Academy, they throw a flurry of signs at her.
Some of them, no doubt, make the sign for teacher.
The description fits.