Mountain Brook High School Students Grow with Sign Language
One class of 15 students at Mountain Brook High School is learning a new way to communicate. Fifth-period students meet daily in Matt Ferguson’s classroom to join a zoom call with Eugenia O’Daniel, a teacher at the Alabama School for the Deaf, to learn American Sign Language. ASL is an Access class that is taught daily via video conferencing. The two-year class qualifies as a world language credit.
During 2019 through the 2021 school year, 12 MBHS students participated in this course and learned to be competent and conversational in sign language. The current class will complete the course in May of 2023.
“Language acquisition is different for each student,” O’Daniel told MBS. “This year’s students have lots of determination and have grown tremendously in a semester and a half.”
Students have been able to apply this learning outside the classroom. Denton Russell, Oliver Brooks, Sam Hecker, and Brianna Morris-Finley recently signed the national anthem before one of the home varsity basketball games. Last year’s students signed the national anthem at the school’s graduation ceremony.
Before the pandemic, students traveled to the Alabama School for the Deaf where they toured the campus and conversed with students to learn more about their school day, hobbies, interests, and families. MBHS students also watched a signed performance of the musical ‘Grease’ by students from Alabama School for the Deaf.
Ferguson took some students in this year’s class to a movie just before winter break. Students from Alabama School for the Deaf and a few MBHS students watched The Eternals, a Marvel movie that features the first Deaf superhero.
“Real-life application makes this learning a unique experience for our students,” Ferguson said. “Past students have formed relationships with others from around the state and communicated in ways they wouldn’t have been able to without this class.”
Another outside event that Mountain Brook ASL students have participated in includes a silent dinner. Members of Birmingham's Deaf community meet monthly at area restaurants for a social gathering and to share a meal. Signers and ASL students are invited to participate in these informal dinners. This allows students to practice their signing in a real-world setting.
These 15 students have found ways to incorporate sign language outside of the classroom as they interact with each other.
“It’s like magic,” Hudson Young said. On multiple occasions, Ferguson has signed to his students down the hallway and even standing on the track at football practice to say hello. This particular group of students sign to their fifth-period classmates in the mall. Students said others who are not in the class witness the communication and are mesmerized. Some students even have taught their friends outside the class some sign language.
“It’s cool that this qualifies as a world language class because this is really something that sticks with you,” Davis Peterson said. “The hand motion creates muscle memory so it’s easier to remember.”
Students take American Sign Language for a variety of reasons. It’s a unique alternative to Spanish, French, or Latin. Young, whose cousin is hard of hearing, said he now has a way to better communicate with his cousin.
Many students enroll in the class with little to no knowledge of sign language. Each current student said the growth so far is immeasurable, and there’s no telling what benefit this class will provide in the future.