News | June 30, 2015


Instructor bridges deaf and hearing worlds

Chris Hamstra teaches American Sign Language at FGCU.
Chris Hamstra teaches American Sign Language at FGCU.

No matter the major, students find that Chris Hamstra’s class speaks to them. Somehow, they all can find a use for American Sign Language, making Hamstra’s class a popular one.

Jess Distephano of Coral Springs plans to teach kids with behavioral issues and thinks sign language would give them another way to express themselves. For Anna Delevoe of Hollywood, it’s a kinder, gentler way to speak. “It’s perfect for when you want to communicate but not get all up in somebody’s face,” she says.

As if to prove it, Hamstra flicks the lights on and off in a class to get students’ attention. When he asks them to practice signing together, nobody moves. They pair up by eye contact, a student in the back with one in the front or students two rows apart, fingers moving animatedly.

Hamstra, who lost his hearing to meningitis as an infant, uses hearing aids and a service dog but learned to sign early and teaches it at Allen Park Elementary School, where he met his wife, Michelle. “It was love at first sight,” he says.

Love is one of the words students learn in class this night, along with words for colors, some foods and telephone.

There’s plenty of give and take, which is fitting, Hamstra says, as he sees himself not only as a teacher but as a link between deaf and hearing worlds. “I try to bridge the gap,” he says.