A flourish of hand movements, body gestures, and facial expressions accompanied a spoken lesson as students sat in a Theater Appreciation class listening to their instructor give a lecture.

A sign-language interpreter translated the lecture so that a student with a hearing impairment could receive all the information just the same as her classmates.

With a brand new department chair and a revised curriculum planned for next fall, no one can say the TJC Sign Language Interpreting program is all thumbs.

With an estimated 8.8% of the Texas population suffering from some kind of hearing loss, according to the Texas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the demand for sign-language interpreters is ever-increasing.

As the TJC Interpreting program is the only one of its kind from Shreveport to Dallas, it is fitting that the program is continuing to grow.

Rhonda McKinzie, who has been an instructor at TJC since 2006, became the head of the department in August when former Chair Dr. Judy Barnes retired. Having over 30 years of experience in American sign language, McKinzie is a level three and court-certified interpreter for the deaf.

“I’ve been doing this since I was about 13 years old, so now I get to teach other people how to interpret for the deaf,” said McKinzie.

While many students were halfway through their training when Barnes retired, McKinzie’s leadership has so far been greeted with approval from students.

“We’re really lucky that we had the tutelage of Dr. Barnes, and Ms. McKinzie stepping in has been just wonderful as well. She is a great asset to the program,” said sophomore Karla Watts. “She’s a really good leader. It’s like ducks following their mama.”

With the change of leadership in the program comes a revitalization of the program of study. In the future, a new curriculum is slated to be implemented, possibly including advanced American Sign Language courses.

While nothing is set in stone yet, McKinzie hopes to have the new curriculum approved in time for the changes to be in effect by next fall semester.

But even before any curriculum changes have been made, interpreting students are already experiencing new aspects in their training.

McKinzie recently kicked off Sign Language Story Time Saturdays at Barnes and Noble, a program to reach out to deaf and hearing-impaired children in the community, while giving the students real-world experience in working as interpreters for the public. The program, where children’s stories are read aloud as well as signed, is being held at 10 a.m. every other Saturday at the Barnes and Noble in Tyler.

“It’s fantastic to be able to share something with the kids and also use it as a learning experience. It was a really good idea,” said Watts.

Once students graduate from the Interpreter Training program, there are many options where they can apply their preparation. in education and professional fields.

The number of interpreter positions are expected to increase by 24 percent over the next decade. The median hourly salary for interpreters was $17.10 in 2006.

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