NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Camron Ellis bounced to the beat of “Frosty the Snowman,” waving his hands and moving his fingers.
He could hear enough of the Christmas song to get into the rhythm. But to understand the lyrics he relied on the Lakeland Talking Hands.
The Suffolk high school’s sign-language class entertained several dozen children who are deaf or hard of hearing in a program at MacArthur Center. Sitting front row and center, Camron was focused on every movement the seven entertainers made.
“He’s always excited about this,” Temekka Ellis said of her 5-year-old grandson who was dressed in new blue jeans and a bright red button-down shirt. “He looks forward to this every year. This is our third time here.”
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Camron, from Portsmouth, was born with severe hearing loss and wears cochlear implants – devices connected to his scalp and to hearing aids in his ears.
“He’s working on the speech,” said great-grandmother Marie Brooks.
After the Christmas carols, Camron grabbed Brooks by the hand and raced to the face-painting station before heading over to see the event’s signing Santa.
“Music,” he said with a high-five. “Yes. Thank you.”
“He’s getting better and better with the words,” Ellis said. “He’s just so excited to be here.”
Many of the other children in the crowd swayed in unison with the Talking Hands, who will perform at several Suffolk elementary schools in the coming weeks.
“For me, this is about the kids,” said Lakeland senior Ray Liverman, who took up sign language three years ago. “I saw what this group was doing and I like the Christmas songs, so I just started in the class.
“I know it sounds sappy, but it just really warms my heart when I see the looks on their faces, because they understand the songs now.”
The program also featured playtime in the mall’s Ice Palace, plus milk and cookies – some of which might have been saved for Santa.
“This is our fifth time doing this,” said Lakeland’s American signing teacher, Anita Fisher. “This is probably the only time these deaf kids get to see Christmas carols in sign.
“We started preparing the first week in October and have been practicing for a couple of weeks. It’s good for the kids and for my students.”
Surrounded by other children facing the same challenges, Camron erupted in animation when the group started the show with “Jingle Bells.” His hands were a blur, mimicking the signs.
It didn’t matter that he couldn’t repeat them all.
“He’s just full of joy and having the time of his life,” said his grandmother, who was all smiles herself.