Justice students celebrate Read Across America Week and ASL Day

Published 4:40 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2024

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Literacy is an essential skill to teach youth, who often look up to athletes and older role models as examples of success. 

On Friday, March 1, at Willis H. Justice Elementary School on Mt. Sterling Road, faculty found a way to combine both. 

As a kickoff to Read Across America Week and in recognizing their first ever American Sign Language Day, which takes place nationally on April 15, students were treated to assemblies featuring members of both the University of Kentucky Wildcats football team and stunt team. 

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“We took a little bit of time today to highlight American Sign Language. We spent all week teaching the kids how to greet each other, how to ask each ‘How [are] you doing?’ and respond,” said Ryan Daniel, assistant principal. “[By] adding that in conjunction with Read Across America…we thought it was a great way to bring the school together and incorporate some University of Kentucky athletes who so graciously offered to come and spend some time with the kids.” 

American Sign Language, considered the primary language for communications by many North Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing, is expressed by movements of the hand and face. 

It is considered one of the fastest-growing languages. 

“We have two students here that use it as a primary form of language. We have another population of students that use it to aid in their communication.” Daniel added. “These students are trying their best to communicate with the world and it’s our job to meet them in the middle.” 

Demonstrating what they’ve learned, students signed various words and phrases in unison, including “thank you”.

Four football players from the University of Kentucky were in attendance: linebackers Noah Matthews, Jacob Smith, Tyreese Fearbry and defensive lineman Kahlil Saunders. 

Three stunt team members – one of the NCAA’s newest approved sports – were also present. 

They were Dani Grandy, Nadia Davis and Nevaeh Jones. 

After each of the two assemblies featuring different grade levels began with an introduction by Daniel, the UK student athletes presented themselves. 

When it was time to read aloud to the students in the gym, Noah Matthews read the story “One Big Pair of Underwear” by Dr. Laura Gehl with illustrator Tom Lichtenheld. 

Afterward, Matthews spoke of what the experience meant to him. 

“It’s actually a great experience. I really enjoy coming out here and talking with the kids. That’s what it’s about is giving back to the kids.” he said. “I love the energy here. I love how they come with all smiles and how fun it is.” 

In addition to emphasizing the importance of reading, the day wouldn’t be complete without allowing time for entertainment. 

Toward the end of the assembly, several students were selected for individual games played alongside the athletes that ranged from shooting basketballs into hoops to throwing footballs into garbage cans. 

As they did so, students in the gym could be heard calling out with enthusiasm and approval. 

To conclude, all elementary school students would have the chance to participate with the UK athletes, as the song “Cupid Shuffle” was played for everyone to have an opportunity to dance on the gym floor. 

Daniel emphasized once more the importance and relevance of focusing on Read Across America Week. 

“Reading levels have dropped nationwide over the last few years…so putting an emphasis on reading and emphasis on just the passion and love for that is something that we always want to highlight each and every day,” he said.

He also pointed out the inspiring role UK athletes provided to students.  

“They’re superheroes to them,” Daniels said. “When you’re able to bring them in and allow them to highlight the importance of being a student athlete [and] how important it is [to] take care of our academics before we do anything else, it just rings a little bit truer for them.”