SASKATOON -- A Grade 1 classroom in Prince Albert is carrying on the daily O Canada tradition in sign language.

Sheryl Lepine, a teacher at École Vickers Public School, said students are not allowed to sing as part of the province’s COVID-19 guidelines. Because singing is a large part of teaching in Grade 1, she wanted to find an alternative method to incorporate song.

“One of the major routines and traditions that we have is singing O Canada right first thing in the morning, so I just thought ‘Well, maybe we’ll just try sign language,’” she said.

Lepine taught herself and her students how to sign O Canada through YouTube videos. The class has been learning the national anthem since September.

“The kids really enjoy it. It gets them ready for the day sooner because they’re excited to start on time, so we just started off small, with a few words at a time, and now we’re up to the whole song,” she said.

École Vickers administration posted a video of the students on its Facebook page.

Lepine said she’s receiving a positive response from parents. One mom said signing O Canada brings a sense of security and normalcy for her son during the pandemic.

Sue Schmid is an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter in Prince Albert for Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services.

She thanked Lepine for introducing her students to sign language. She hopes learning how to sign O Canada acts as a stepping stone for the students to learn more as they grow up.

Schmid said sign language is not taught enough in classrooms and that communication is more than just being able to speak English.

"Give all of the options, and they might use one for a while and then switch over, but knowing that you have all of those options allows for brain development and language development in the brain and the neuropathways that need to happen,” she said.

Schmid also spoke about the importance of having staff trained in sign language.

“It’s always tough because the number of deaf students isn’t a high number, but their needs require a very specific type of training.”

She pointed to a similar initiative where students at Winston Knoll Collegiate in Regina made an ASL instructional video for the national anthem.

However, she said sign language isn’t a one size fits all. The cues vary from province-to-province, country-to-country, and even person-to-person.

Lepine said she plans on teaching her students how to sign other songs once they’re comfortable with O Canada.

She said École Vickers has a program where students can’t communicate through English. Instead, they have to use visuals.