Estacada High School students learn language, culture in new American Sign Language program

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Students Josh Townsend, Bailey Bard and KaeLeah Dodd practice the signs they've learned in the ASL I class at Estacada High School.Estacada High School students are learning to speak with their hands and bodies rather than just their voices.

Last fall, interested students enrolled in the high school's new American Sign Language Program to fulfill their foreign language credit requirement and learn about another culture.

"It was a new program and it sounded interesting," said Bailey Bard, a sophomore. "I work at Sandy Family Restaurant and thought it would be useful (if I had a deaf customer)."

Freshman Josh Townsend signed up for the class to learn about different ways of communication.

"I thought it was interesting that people talked without using their mouth," he said.

Students in the program are enrolled in American Sign Language I for the year. If they're interested, they'll continue on to American Sign Language II next year.

Jordan Collins, who teaches both courses, explained that the language is based on English words and consists of bringing a visual element — or sign — to the words. Collins' classes focus on learning the signs and understanding the basics of deaf culture.

One cultural aspect that plays a major role in class is storytelling.

"Storytelling is so important to deaf culture because for a long time, deaf people didn't have a lot of opportunities to communicate," Collins explained. "There were so few

of them, and there was no

technology (to help them connect)."

The first semester of ASL I focused on basic signs and storytelling, and students had to sign a four minute story for their final project. The second semester focuses on storytelling again, with an emphasis on fables.

Many in the deaf community embrace their identity through cultural elements like stories.

For example, one popular story centers around a logger cutting down trees. For the first few trees, he used his ax and yelled out "Timber," and the trees fell. He repeated the process with a third tree, but it didn't fall over. After several more attempts, the logger called an expert, who signed "Timber." The tree fell down, and the expert explained that the tree was deaf.

"(Many people) consider being deaf a disability, but deaf people don't think like that," Collins said. "It's just a different culture to them."

She added that a major characteristic of storytelling in the deaf community is its dynamic nature.

"It's almost like a movie," she said. "It's very much creating a visual. It's not just words, everything is set up in space. You can be all the characters (in the story)."

In addition to learning about new stories and culture, students also value the communication skills they're learning in class.

"It will open up a lot of career opportunities. If you're a doctor, you'll be able to talk to deaf patients," said freshman KaeLeah Dodd. "And it will open up more social opportunities. There are more people you can be friends with."

Collins hopes that in addition to learning about a new culture and language, students enjoy what they're learning. She added that her favorite part of teaching the class is when students realize why a sign makes sense — for example, the sign for popcorn is the kernels popping.

"(The signs) are cool, and I like when they realize that," she said.

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