American Sign Language: Impacting Education

Guest blog by Stephanie McKnight from Ben Barber Innovation Academy in Mansfield ISD, Mansfield Tx.

When I first decided I wanted to become a teacher, it was because of the impact my teachers had on me throughout my years of school, not to mention Anatomy and Physiology and I didn’t get along, so I knew I couldn’t be a Physical Therapist.   However, I knew that I wanted to touch lives; I wanted to make a difference.

Fast-forward to the current school year, and this is my 17th year of making a difference.   I am one of four American Sign Language  (ASL) teachers at Ben Barber Innovation Academy, and I get the privilege to teach high school students a second language in advanced and dual credit courses. I have watched many students succeed, and pursue careers using this language and skill.

Not only have I watched student personal growth, I have witnessed the growth of our program.  It is not typical to have four ASL teachers in one district, much less one school.  I have worked for Mansfield ISD for 6 years, and the bug is contagious to learn ASL. We have hundreds of students enrolled each year to take ASL, and many times have to turn students away due to classes being full.  I attribute this to the wonderful colleagues I work with.

This year alone, our ASL program has piloted two different programs.  One program is hosting an ASL competition, allowing ASL students of levels 1-4, to compete in a language competition, similar to German, Latin, and other languages.  A language competition of this caliber is not available at a regional or state level, and so it is an exciting opportunity our students get to pioneer.

The other program my students were chosen to be a part of this year, was to partner with Martha Reid Leadership Academy, a local elementary school, in teaching their students ASL.  This program allows my advanced ASL students to prepare lessons weekly, and to go teach 2nd -4th graders.  They have been involved for one semester, and my kids have loved every minute of it. They get so excited to teach the lessons and find creative ways to implement them.  They have the opportunity to transfer what they have learned, and teach others.

As a teacher, my responsibility is to empower students to use the skills I have taught them.  When I see my students transfer knowledge, or use the skills in communicating with the Deaf community, or get excited to tell me how they were able to assist a person who is Deaf, at their workplace, that makes this job worth it.. And keeps me coming back day after day.

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