Words took a back seat to gestures about snowflakes, reindeer and other things seasonal when some Brennen Elementary School students welcomed a special guest to their classroom Thursday.
With a twinkle in his eyes and the wave of his hands, the man called Santa delivered greetings of the season to students in the Richland 1 school’s deaf and hard of hearing classes as he signed some well-known holiday stories and songs.
The annual visit from Santa (who bares a strong resemblance to Richland 1 interpreter Edwin Dunlap) has been taking place about 20 years and is sponsored by the Richland Sertoma Club.
“For these kids, it’s about access to the language,” said Emilee McAbee, who teaches one of Brennen’s two deaf classes with Debbie Sheppard. “Having a Santa who signs makes Santa just like them.”
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The morning visit began as the day’s special visitor signed “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” before inviting students and others to join him for a group signing of “Jingle Bells.”
A school staff member then read “The Night Before Christmas” as Santa signed and acted out the story while urging his young listeners to climb aboard for an imaginary ride on his sleigh.
“Have you been good?” Santa asked, and after receiving many eager assurances that they had, he passed out gift bags that had been put together by the Sertoma Club.
Brennen first-grader Joey Locklear was wide-eyed as he explored his gifts.
“It’s a truck. I’m going to take it home,” he signed.
Thursday gathering ended with a group signing of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Sertoma Club member Linda Etheredge said the annual visit is one of the highlights of her holiday.
“It just means so much to the students,” she said. “It’s great for children who don’t get to be a part of the hearing world. It’s a blessing to see them so happy.”