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Tuesday, December 23, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Signing Santa is a big hit with deaf students

TACOMA — Pupils at Spanaway Elementary's deaf and hard-of-hearing class couldn't hear the jingle bells and most of them are unable to speak.

But the visit of this particular Santa Claus to their school meant a lot. Korey Bringman is a deaf student, too.

Dressed in a red velvet suit, with a garland of evergreens atop his head and a flowing white beard, Bringman walked in with bells jangling from his brown suede boots.

His entrance as Santa Claus prompted squeaks and squeals of delight from the preschool and elementary pupils at the suburban Tacoma school.

The girls and boys surrounded Bringman, a Spanaway Lake High School senior and a 200-pound former wrestler.

He watched intently as children on his lap rattled off their wish lists. He slowed his normally rapid-fire sign language so he could communicate clearly with them.

Bringman plays the role of Santa each year to deaf children in several South Sound school districts, making sure their Christmas wishes are understood.

"He's so gentle and patient and very much a storyteller," said Debbie Tygart, one of Bringman's teachers. "Just who he is lends itself to working with these little guys."

Bringman has proved so adept at communicating with children that deaf-language teachers in his district have requested him to explain science concepts to elementary-school students.

"You just look at him and know he ought to go into education," Tygart said.

Bringman first played the role of Santa four years ago.

"It gave me such a sense of pride," Bringman said through interpreter Christine Osness. "It was so wonderful to see how the kids looked at me."

John Medved, president of the Tacoma chapter of Sertoma, a service organization for the deaf, has watched Bringman grow in his role to become one of the more popular Santas in schools.

"I was concerned about whether a 13-year-old could pull it off," Medved recalled of Bringman's ambitions four years ago. "But he sure did."

Bringman moves his hands slowly to ask children if they want a toy or a doll, a phrase he repeats countless times.

Bringman explains to children he's the deaf child of hearing parents, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and is helping for the holidays.

In real life, Bringman is the child of hearing parents. He's had to learn to speak sign language in a hearing household. His mother and his brother use American Sign Language. His father uses exact English, signing each word in its sentence order but is now learning ASL.

At school, Bringman uses an interpreter. He's served as president of the Junior NAD Club, a youth program of the National Association of the Deaf. He's competitively wrestled and played football. He said he's thinking of enrolling in the automotive-repair program at Bates Technical College next year.

For now, Bringman's passion is being Santa.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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