Fight for ASL successful but class space remains limited

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Photo by Elizabeth Mehler

ASL teacher Lea Clark signs “what’s up?” in American Sign Language.

To graduate every student needs three world language credits. A wide selection of languages are offered but there is one unique language that stands out from the rest: American Sign Language. 

It’s really cool to be able to communicate visually.”

— Lea Clark

Lea Clark is the only ASL teacher in the school, teaching five classes at three different levels. Clark’s interest with ASL began in college. She had no deaf friends or family, ASL was purely a curiosity. “It’s really cool to be able to communicate visually,” Clark said.

For the current school year, five sign language classes are being taught. Two ASL 1, two ASL 2, and one ASL 3 class. The countywide curriculum offers ASL classes up to ASL 3. “Students use American Sign Language to communicate about daily life with basic vocabulary and simple grammatical structures. They explore the cultural and linguistic heritage of the Deaf community and its influence,” the MCPS website states.

Last school year, senior Anna Keneally fought to keep ASL 3 in school. After ASL 3 was cancelled for the last school year, Keneally began an online campaign to bring it back. Three forgeign language credits are required to graduate; without ASL 3 students would need to take a year of a different language to have the language credits required. The online campaign consisted of a change.org petition, email banking and phone calls, which all eventually led to a successful meeting with Principal Kimberly Boldon and ASL 3 was reinstated. “It was important to me because I realized how much others learning ASL helps people in the Deaf community,” Keneally said. 

Some students who requested ASL for this school year were denied and put into a different language instead either due to scheduling or lack of class space. “I requested ASL 1 but was put into Spanish 2AB instead, even though I never took Spanish 1AB which was disappointing,” freshman Thomas Mehler said. 

Limited class space could be solved by hiring another ASL teacher, which would create more ASL classes, Clark agrees another teacher would be beneficial to ensure all students who wanted to take ASL could. “I’m really glad I decided to take sign language. It’s an interesting language and I’d definitely recommend the class to other students,” current ASL 2 student and junior Ashley Cook said.

September is Deaf Awareness month, a time to celebrate and raise awareness about people who are culturally and medically Deaf. ASL being taught in school is important as it brings inclusivity to the community and gives students an understanding of the culture. “We encourage people to become fluent and skilled users, teachers, and interpreters of ASL. Moreover, we welcome everyone to experience learning and using ASL. We believe that ASL is beneficial to all people, of all ages,” that National Association of the Deaf states on their website.