Submitted by North Thurston Public Schools

This school year, River Ridge High School began offering a new, advanced course for students who discover a passion for American Sign Language (ASL). This is the first time North Thurston Public Schools has offered an ASL 3 course, opening an opportunity for ASL 1 and 2 students to advance their learning in this specialized discipline.

ASL 3 students begin to deepen their understanding of ASL as its own language, not just a version of English conveyed in gestures and facial expressions. As a career and technical education (CTE) course, ASL 3 lays a foundation of opportunity for students to consider a future in ASL interpreting. Students also develop and participate in ASL-oriented community service projects and participate in competitions.

River Ridge High School ASL 3 students signing in front of  a classroom
River Ridge High School ASL 3 students. Photo courtesy: North Thurston Public Schools

Cathy Boos teaches all six ASL classes offered at River Ridge High School and played a pivotal role in developing the new ASL 3 course. A nationally-certified interpreter for more than 30 years, Boos started the ASL program 14 years ago. Boos noticed some students who had completed ASL 2 had a strong desire to go deeper in their learning and connect to career opportunities outside the classroom. Boos worked with Brad Hooper, the district’s director of career and technical education, to develop such a class.

“They’re not just learning sign language in a class like this,” Hooper said. “We’re helping them think about what they can do with these skills.”

The day we spoke with Boos, ASL 3 students were learning to translate English idioms. Because idioms like “the sky is falling,” are phrases that convey meaning beyond the literal definition of each word, they’re an excellent way to help ASL students learn to start thinking in the language.

“They’re working really hard because students have to decipher the deeper meaning of the idioms and come up with a short sequence of signs that capture the actual meaning,” Boos said.

The work of ASL 3 extends well beyond the classroom. During their first semester, ASL 3 students decided to conduct a literacy project with an outcome that would support elementary school students who are deaf and hard of hearing.

“Ninety percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents,” Boos said. “Of that, only 2 percent of the hearing parents are ever going to learn how to sign fluently. Twenty percent will learn to sign casually.”

River Ridge High School ASL 3 students lying on the floor on their stomachs holding hands in a circle, smiling at the camera
River Ridge High School ASL 3 students. Photo courtesy: North Thurston Public Schools

In response to this need, ASL 3 students picked out children’s books, translated them into ASL, and practiced reading the books while they signed. Then they recorded videos of themselves reading and signing the books with young deaf students and did art projects related to the book.

“Being given the opportunity to be in ASL as a whole has really opened me up to an entire world,” says Alice Ly, a River Ridge High School junior enrolled in ASL 3. “As another marginalized group—second-generation immigrant—I found it easy to sympathize with our shared struggles, such as barriers in communication and inclusion in general.”

There is a tremendous amount of opportunity for students who become fluent in ASL.

“ASL is the fourth most common language in the United States and there are not enough interpreters to meet the needs of the deaf community,” she said. “This is a good, well-paid career, and there is a strong need for more ASL interpreters.”

It’s also the only language that the American Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an accommodation for in the form of an interpreter. As part of their coursework, ASL 3 students research interpreter training programs so they’re ready to take the next step if they experience the passion and drive to continue.

“In ASL 3, students need to be connected, they need to be involved, and they need to be doing,” Boos said.

She leverages her connections with the deaf community around Thurston County and beyond to develop opportunities for ASL 3 students to build their skills in real-world contexts. This past holiday season, she partnered with the City of Lacey Parks and Recreation Department to host Signing Santa. Students helped plan the event, including snacks and decorations, then participated by interacting with the guests and performing carols they memorized and rehearsed. Next year, ASL 3 students will tutor middle school students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

In addition to serving fellow NTPS students and members of the local deaf community, ASL students attend state and regional Skills USA competitions. This year, ASL 3 students from River Ridge High School won regionals. NTPS is proud to support aspiring ASL experts as they serve their community, strive for excellence, and lay strong foundations for a promising, essential career path.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email