East, West Expand ASL Holiday Tradition

East, West Collaborate to Expand ASL Holiday Tradition
Posted on 12/28/2018
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photo collage of students participating in ASL holiday programsSince 1993, Lakota West American Sign Language teacher Gwen Trujillo has been challenging her ASL students to learn and sign a holiday song from start to finish for their peers. But a new twist introduced this year by ASL teachers Katie Nicol and Jessica Frye transformed the tradition into a learning experience for ASL students at all levels. And with the help of digital learning tools, Lakota East students were able to participate too.  

Every month this year, Nicol and Frye have been trying to recreate lab day experiences like the ones they had while attending Eastern Kentucky University. The idea is to create activities that bring ASL I and ASL II students together.

“Our goal is to give students a total immersion experience and force them to use the language outside of the classroom setting,” Frye said.

At Lakota West last Friday, students spanning ASL I through ASL III gathered in the community room to do just that. Even filled with more than 50 high schoolers, the room remained silent for nearly two hours as small groups enjoyed some holiday treats over a voice-free conversation. The morning continued with pairs of ASL III students performing the holiday songs they had learned for their peers.

“Learning to sign a song requires a whole different level of interpretation,” said Nicol, explaining that facial expressions and rhythmic interpretations are make it more engaging for a deaf person. “Besides the obvious exposure to different and more advanced vocabulary, it was great for students who are just beginning their work in ASL to see what could be in store for them.”

A former student of Trujillo, Nicol credits her career path to her deaf teacher and the impression she made on her. Similarly, senior and ASL III student Jocelyn Peterson says Trujillo is the reason she plans to become an interpreter.

“Mrs. Trujillo was my first encounter with a deaf person,” Peterson said. “I was so ignorant to Deaf Culture, but she opened my eyes and gave me a new appreciation for the challenges they face.”

That same afternoon, laptop cameras connected West’s ASL students with an ASL I class at East. With the sound literally muted, small groups of students communicated via Skype, forcing them to use only sign language. The class also enjoyed a selection of holiday songs signed by West’s ASL students.

“We’re so excited for the 1-to-1 rollout to be able to incorporate technology even more,” Frye said. “We’re hoping to even connect students by establishing ASL pen pals across the district.”