Rachel Walker, a Learning Specialist/Upward Bound Teacher at Global Connections High School submitted an excel grant request last fall to take her students to “The Chimposium” on the Central Washington University Campus. “The Chimposium showcases a unique research facility that houses chimpanzees who are being taught sign language; because students in our group have learned sign language during summer course work, this would be an amazing opportunity for our students to see how sign language is used in the program (and perhaps even communicate with the animals!)”
Begun in 1966, this is the first and longest running research project of its kind. Washoe and the other three signing chimpanzees (Loulis, Dar and Tatu) acquired extensive American Sign Language (ASL) vocabularies. They gesture and vocalize, the same as chimpanzees in their natural habitat, and also use ASL in their interactions with humans and with one another.
The following was submitted by Rachel as part of her final report:
Forty nine large-bodied apes interacted on Friday, July 13, at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute at Central Washington University. Three chimpanzees, Tatu, Dar, and Loulis, watched their 46 human guests enter in the viewing area with non-threatening posture—stooped posture, bent wrists, and close-lipped smiles.
The humans were students from the Highline District taking part in the Institute’s one-hour Chimposium, an educational workshop featuring three chimps who have acquired the basics of American Sign Language. The students—who attend Global Connections High School and Health Sciences and Human Services High School—are currently enrolled in a summer course in American Sign Language, so they were easily able to sign greetings and positive signs like “hug” and “love” to show the chimps that they were non-threatening visitors.
During the visit, the chimpanzees exhibited different reactions to the visitors. Loulis seemed unhappy, giving what was described as a half-hearted display of dominance. Tatu, on the other hand, created a little nest for herself with blankets and settled in for a pre-lunch nap.
The Chimposium began with a lecture to discuss the groundbreaking work of scientists to teach chimpanzees a human language followed by time viewing the chimpanzees and directing questions to the tour guides, who were graduate students in the Primate Studies program at CWU.
Emily, a junior at HS3, learned a bit about how the humans viewed the animals: “The caregivers were there to observe and do research, but they also develop relationships with the chimps.” Emily explained that the guides warned students away from greeting cards with pictures of “smiling” chimps: “They only make that face when they are scared.”
After the up-close experience with the chimpanzees, students enjoyed lunch on campus and participated in a tour of the university.
This educational and entertaining visit to the Chimposium was only possible through funds provided by the Highline Schools Foundation for Excellence through a MAD Grant. Thank you! ~ Rachel Walker
Thank you Rachel for sharing your story. We are so very luck to have such wonderful and creative teachers like you helping shape and grow our kids!