Molly Pourhussin, teacher of the deaf for Derby Public Schools, wants more young people to know American Sign Language, which she calls her “first language.”
Both of Pourhussin’s parents are deaf, so she learned the language growing up. Now, she’s helping Derby students learn the language, not just through class, but through the Panther Paws Sign Language Club.
“It would be nice if we could start ASL younger, but that’s been a debate for world languages on what age to start them at,” she said. “But that would be wonderful.”
Pourhussin is just one example of club sponsors across the Derby school district who are taking steps to ensure their clubs can still meet in some capacity amid the coronavirus pandemic. Like sports, after-school clubs and activities give students a chance to interact with their peers outside of formal learning.
Pourhussin said students created the sign language club at Derby High about 10 years ago, which ultimately led to the addition of an ASL class.
The district usually also has an ASL club at Derby Hills Elementary and was planning to add another club at Stone Creek Elementary this year. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the ASL clubs are meeting online.
“Before COVID-19, we would go Christmas caroling and we would do the national anthem in sign language at football and basketball games,” Pourhussin said. “We do tend to have a lot of people in the club, so it’s nice to have a variety of things for them to do.”
Right now, Pourhussin is hosting two different clubs, both through Zoom. On Tuesday nights, she hosts an elementary school club with 20 to 25 students. On Thursdays, she meets with about 10 middle and high school students.
Pourhussin said her students seem to be adjusting well to an online format. In order for elementary students to join the club while it’s online, parents have to be in the room during club meetings.
“It’s been real nice. Parents are learning along with the children,” she said.
Other clubs and activities that have operated throughout the school year include ranch and rodeo club at Derby North, yearbook and student journalism, and virtual STEM clubs for elementary schoolers.
Activities in the district regulated by the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) have continued under the association’s guidelines. As for clubs, District Activities Director Russell Baldwin said it was up to each sponsor whether they continued to meet, as long as they followed COVID-19 safety protocols.
Darin Link, math teacher and chess club sponsor at DHS, said he opted against hosting his club this school year amid the pandemic.
Link said there are some methods to play chess online, but he feared the experience would not be adequate compared to the real thing.
“Part of the fun of playing chess is playing ‘over the board’ where you physically sit across from one another and then can sense the emotional and physical signs of good and bad moves, as well as feel the flow of the game,” he said.
Link also considered using two chess boards for a single game, with opponents spaced farther apart and each player moving the pieces on their boards for each other’s moves. But again, he feared it wouldn’t create the optimal environment for learning and playing chess.
One extracurricular staple has found a way to keep things running at Derby Middle School: student council.
One of the student council’s goals, the sponsors say, is to teach students leadership through organizing and carrying out school activities and community service projects.
“In addition to planning events that contribute to school spirit and community welfare, the student council is the voice of the student body,” said Scott Christensen, who assists head sponsor Jamie Welch in overseeing the council.
The student council started out the year in-person, wearing masks and using socially distanced seating in the largest conference room at DMS.
While changes to school operations have at times slowed the student council’s opportunities to host events, the council has found multiple ways to keep at its mission.
“The students have been great working under these stressful conditions and have done great things for the school and community,” Christensen said.
Some of the projects the 40 student council members have participated in include:
- Welcome back signs for students and faculty
- Posters and decorations in the halls encouraging positivity
- Thanksgiving and Halloween candy gifts for a retirement home
- Thank you cards for the Derby Board of Education
Anyone interested in learning more about the district’s clubs can visit www.derbyschools.com/schools/extracurricular.