Daily Reporter staff reports
Mt. Vernon High School is now among 30 high schools in the state teaching students how to communicate with the deaf.
This fall, MVHS began offering American Sign Language (ASL) I and II, with hopes that popularity will necessitate third and fourth level classes.
“The students’ response to the new class has been very positive,” said ASL teacher Sharon Peterson. “The students are excited about ASL and are picking it up quickly. We even have a few students interested in becoming audiologists. Some students thought it would be easy, but are learning it is definitely not and they have to put extra work into it.”
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Peterson is currently teaching three sections of ASL 1 with a total of about 62 students. The students are becoming conversational in signing with each other, she said, and have been discussing starting an ASL club.
At some point this semester, Peterson plans on having the class become voiceless.
ASL 2 will be offered next semester, with the goal of keeping the classes to about 20 students per class.
ASL keeps the weekly themes similar to the Spanish and French programs, in part for the MVHS language curriculum to be streamlined. Peterson is designing the curriculum using state standards as the guide, and is integrating cultural information throughout the semester.
The students recently watched a movie written and produced by deaf individuals. It was presented by a deaf cast in ASL with open captions. She is hoping to have a field trip to watch a play for the deaf or visit a school for the deaf.
Principal Bernie Campbell said the school is proud to offer curriculum that will enable students to communicate with the deaf.
“This will only enhance those students’ list of 21st Century skills they acquired in high school that will help prepare them for the real world,” he added.
There have also been discussions on teaching an ASL component in the new eighth-grade world language class. If this comes to fruition, Peterson may use some of the more fluent ASL high school students to help teach this component to the eighth-grade students.
She is not alone in designing ASL lesson plans that engage students in the deaf culture. Peterson plans to reach out to collaborate with those schools who already offer ASL curriculum. She also plans to bring in a few of her deaf friends to communicate with the students.
Peterson has been a sign language interpreter for more than 20 years in the medical, educational and business fields, often while juggling a teaching position as well. She has taught deaf students in Minnesota and Wayne Township, and was also a special needs instructor for adults at Ivy Tech Community College. She received her master’s degree in adult and communication education, and her bachelor’s degree in K-12 deaf education.
In college Peterson transferred from Indiana University to Ball State University to pursue deaf education. She then participated in the deaf immersion program and lived at the Indiana School for the Deaf. During that time, Ball State professors came to the Indiana School for the Deaf to teach classes. Part of her senior year in college was spent teaching and living at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind.