By Ally Morrison
At Mountain Brook High School, an alternative students have to taking Spanish, French and Latin to satisfy their world language credit requirements is to take American Sign Language.
According to Mountain Brook City Schools communications specialist William Galloway, only two other metro schools, Homewood and Oak Mountain, offer this form of instruction through Alabama School for the Deaf.
A group of 15 students at MBHS are enrolled in the sign language course and meet daily in Matt Ferguson’s classroom, where they join a Zoom call with Eugenia O’Daniel, a teacher at the Alabama School for the Deaf.
ASL is a two-year course, and students now enrolled will complete it in May 2023.
“Language acquisition is different for each student. This year’s students have lots of determination and have grown tremendously in a semester and a half,” O’Daniel said in an article published on Mountain Brook High School’s website.
Through this course, students have gained enough confidence in their skills to take their knowledge outside of the classroom. Recently, students Denton Russell, Oliver Brooks, Sam Hecker and Brianna Morris-Finley had the opportunity to sign the National Anthem before a home basketball game.
Before the pandemic, students of Mountain Brook High School traveled to the Alabama School for the Deaf to tour the campus in addition to meeting students.
To practice their signing in a real-world environment, students also have participated in silent dinners with members of Birmingham’s deaf community who meet monthly at local restaurants. Signers and ASL students are invited to participate.
Student Davis Peterson said learning American Sign Language is becoming reflexive for him.
“It’s cool that this qualifies as a world language class because this is really something that sticks with you,” Peterson said in the school’s article. “The hand motion creates muscle memory, so it’s easier to remember.”
The director of instruction and special education at the high school, Missy Brooks, details how the program was created.
“It’s really about being able to provide a teacher that is truly qualified to teach ASL,” Brooks said. “The partnership with the School for the Deaf was a way to ensure our students would receive the highest standard of instruction from a provider that uses ASL every day.”
Learning American Sign Language has a multitude of benefits. ASL helps to enrich and enhance child and adult cognitive skills, which ultimately leads to an increased level of creative thinking, problem-solving, greater academic achievement and cultural awareness, according to the school’s article. Being educated through learning ASL provides all the same benefits as learning a foreign language.
Educator Matt Ferguson said in the article that he took some of his students in this year’s class to a movie before winter break. The MBHS students were joined by students from the Alabama School for the Deaf and watched “The Eternals,” the first Marvel movie to feature a deaf superhero.
According to Homewood City School’s communication director Merrick Wilson, Homewood High School has just recently launched a signing course.
“This school year, Homewood High School has been able to offer the American Sign Language course to our students through Access Distance Learning,” Wilson said. “We have seen a tremendous amount of interest in this course. This allows our students to successfully communicate with those whose primary mode of communication is ASL. Our students are currently taking ASL 1 and will complete ASL 2 next year.”