Tuesday, March 4, 2014

American Sign Language at Rosary High School

Dressed as colorful sea creatures, nine Rosary students spent their Wednesday afternoon in character, acting out famous cartoon scenes well-known by their audience. The laughter from the young children in the room echoed as the story of “Finding Nemo” was told in a way not seen before– entirely through sign language. This project, created by Rosary High School’s American Sign Language (ASL) 3 class, took almost two months to complete. The story was translated and interpreted by third-year students who translated their entire piece for Taft Elementary.  Both deaf and hard-of-hearing students were in the audience.

Rosary High School’s American Sign Language (ASL) program provides students the opportunity to learn communication skills and the structure and grammar of ASL, as well a gain an understanding of the deaf culture. This four-year program is unique to the school. Ms. Jennifer Wilson teaches the ASL classes at Rosary and is the ASL Club moderator. She began the program at Rosary in 2010 with only two classes. This year, two freshmen who were in her very first level one class will be gradating.  Ms. Wilson holds a Bachelor of Art degree in Deaf Studies with a focus on American Sign Language and ASL Literature from California State University, Northridge.

ASL classes meet the foreign language requirement at Rosary High School. Many students combine American Sign Language and either Spanish or English to more-than-fulfill their graduation requirements.

Along with their involvement with local elementary schools, the ASL students also partner with local high schools to immerse themselves in the language and learn from their peers. Last month, the ASL Club participated in the inaugural Inter-School Silent Weekend retreat with Burbank and West Ranch high schools. The retreat took place at Big Bear with over 40 attendees who were required to stay silent all weekend. “The students were taken out of their level of comfort, thrown into a cabin full of strangers and forced to sign,” says Ms. Wilson. “Everyone passed my level of expectations of how this weekend was going to go and I couldn’t be happier.”  These hands-on experiences make the Rosary’s ASL program, and the World Languages department at, unique and enriching.

You may often see ASL students signing the Pledge of Allegiance in the morning, showing prospective students how to sign the schools motto, "Standing in Faith, Standing Together, Standing Tall," or using their skills to silently communicate with one another at lunch.  This practice, says Ms. Wilson, develops the students’ awareness and understanding of other cultures and customs.  These communication skills help to develop the holistic woman that each Rosary graduate becomes.