The annual Christmas program presented by the eighth-grade students from St. Teresa of Calcutta School in McSherrystown incorporated a new and different element this year, one that tugged the heartstrings of the community.
Under the instruction of teachers’ aide Libby Martin, the eighth-graders performed a touching rendition of “O Holy Night” in American Sign Language at the conclusion of their production at Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church on December 12.
A video of their poignant performance can be seen here: https://fb.watch/p0d0YKA4aX/.
“The students were highly enthusiastic in learning ASL. It meant a lot to me to see them want to learn. I am very proud of the students,” Martin, who has a hearing impairment, told The Catholic Witness.
She was encouraged to help the students incorporate ASL into the program when a teacher told her of similar productions led by the late Sister Eileen Kean, SSJ, who was principal at Sacred Heart School in Conewago before it consolidated with Annunciation School to form St. Teresa of Calcutta School. Sister Eileen had traditionally integrated Sign Language into Sacred Heart’s Christmas production for years.
Martin was all too happy to resurrect the tradition, and turned to her favorite saying: “You don’t have to be deaf to learn ASL. It is for everyone who wants to learn.”
The students were eager to learn how to sign “O Holy Night,” and did so in one week.
“I broke the words into groups to teach each day. Then the next day, we did more groups. By the third day, we did the whole verse,” Martin said. “The students practiced at home. The teachers videotaped me to show the students to continue practicing, then we had a couple more additional practices to finish out the week.”
The result was an emotional performance of an already-poignant Christmas hymn.
“The performance was very heartfelt and emotional to the audience. It was very warm and loving. It brought great joy to everyone and captured the true meaning of Jesus’ birth and Christmas,” Martin said.
Principal David Staub was also deeply moved.
“I watched them perform their dress rehearsal, and I got kind of choked up myself. It just fills your heart differently,” he said. “I told the students they had an opportunity to make a lasting impression on their family, friends and community, and they rose to the occasion. The feedback from the community was overwhelming; people said it certainly tugged at their heartstrings. It very much left an impression on our school.”
The Sign Language performance was one part of the school’s Christmas productions by elementary and middle school students. Students in PreK3 through third grade at the Conewago campus delighted show-goers with numerous songs during a performance at their school. For those who attended the program at the McSherrystown campus, it was the first time students offered the presentation inside the church. The production began with students’ narration and interpretation of the Infancy Narratives; some eighth-graders served as lectors, while others filled the roles of Mary, Joseph, the Magi, the shepherds and angels.
Presenting the Christmas program in Annunciation Church “certainly captured the essence of the Advent season and added a new perspective,” Staub said. “There was a different sense of reverence. It just kind of fills your heart differently, being there in the church.”
“The program certainly left an impression and impact on our community,” he added. “It was truly a moving performance and captured the true essence of the Advent season.”
Learn more about St. Teresa of Calcutta School at stck8school.org.
(Photos courtesy of Melissa Guy, St. Teresa of Calcutta School.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness