by SAMANTHA ENGLAND and CECILIA WEINKAUF
WESTFIELD, Ind. (Oct. 3, 2018) - Deep in the cluster of Westfield High School’s 50-plus clubs, the American Sign Language, or ASL, club might be easy to miss. But after school on Oct. 3, a handful of students made their way to Madame O’Brien’s classroom for ASL club’s first meeting of the year to learn some basic signs and get to know other club members.
Co-presidents Ellie Rinne (9) and Ariel Clemmons (12) began the meeting by teaching the new members the alphabet and numbers, then watching a video on traditional greetings. Clemmons is not new to the sign language world. Not only was she a member of the club last year, but she was involved with ASL long before that.
“I have grown up around interpreters, and I thought it was really interesting that someone had started a club to teach other kids ASL,” Clemmons said.
Rinne led the meeting along with Clemmons but has a slightly different history with ASL. Despite inconsistent involvement with the language for a while, she immediately took a liking to it, regardless of difficulty.
“I first got involved with ASL last year,” Rinne said. “I would say that it’s difficult learning signs. It took me about a couple months just to learn the basic signs.”
Both dedicated students looked forward to teaching others some of the skills they’ve learned and perfected over time.
Members at the callout meeting came from various grades and levels of experience. Some were already near fluency in ASL, while others came with absolutely no prior knowledge. However, all were welcome to attend and learn about sign language.
As the meeting progressed, the variety of people attending started practicing some conversations and communicating with each other. They learned how to ask someone’s name and how to spell their own names. In addition they were able to ask how other people are doing, and a couple ways to answer that question themselves.
The club’s sponsor, Madame Stacey O’Brien, already taught French and Spanish at WHS, but she was ready to take on another challenge.
“I love languages,” O’Brien said, “and [ASL] is something that I am not familiar with and would like to learn.”
ASL club is now under new leadership with new goals and enthusiasm for the future.
“We want to help people learn basic signs and communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing, but we also want to teach some of the history of deaf culture,” Clemmons said.
Due to graduation requirements, however, some students are already involved with the language. Myah Sandlin (11) took a course online over the summer to fulfill world language credits for an Honors diploma.
“Spanish, French and German weren’t calling my name like ASL was,” Sandlin said. “I’m glad I took the course, because I absolutely loved it. Now I get to justify talking with my hands.”
Contrary to popular belief, ASL is an official world language that can be taken to earn those credits. It gives students yet another opportunity to customize their education and learn about a subject they truly enjoy--a chance to discover sign language, and perhaps their love for it.