With the variety of different clubs and activities to take part in at Oswego High School, it can be overwhelming to incoming freshmen and new students. There are honor societies for every subject, language clubs, and much more. But some clubs stood out to various students- one of those being Sign Club.

With close to 10,000,000 hard-of-hearing individuals and nearly 1,000,000 functionally deaf individuals in America alone, according to The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP for short), learning the American Sign Language can be extremely beneficial. However, taking into consideration that ASL is recognized as a full, complete language, it can make learning on your own can be difficult. That’s where Sign Club comes into play. 

“I think it’s important for most of us to learn sign language because there are times where most deaf people feel left out because they don’t fit in with the hearing culture,” junior Amany Harb, vice-president of Sign Club, said. 

“I think it’s a really interesting experience to share with others,” sophomore and club president Ciara Isidro said.

Even though ASL club was successfully founded in 2015, some members wanted ASL classes to further promote learning and awareness surrounding deaf culture. 

“Last year, I started a petition, where I had students sign to show support to have ASL classes here. And [the school] said they had so many foreign language classes that they’d have to take one down and they’d need to find staff. It would be difficult to open a class because we would have to get lots of approval through the board and make the cut,” Isidro said.

Despite this, the members of the sign club still agree- OHS should look into starting American Sign Language classes. 

The sponsor of the club, Ms. Laura Howell-Lindsey, is also a certified teacher for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing. She attended classes at Harper College in Palatine, Ill., where they offer five levels of ASL courses. 

“For me, I started learning in high school because I went to [John Hersey High School], and I had no way to communicate with [my classmates],” Ms. Howell-Lindsey said. 

Since Ms. Howell-Lindsey graduated before the program was created, there was no way to learn ASL during her high school experience. Hersey, however, now has a program called the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Program, which was established in 1978.

This issue transcends to Oswego High, where there are currently no ASL classes offered. 

“We have been fighting for a class to start; we don’t have a signing class here at OHS…here, we only have the sign club,” Ms. Howell-Lindsey said. 

Sign club at OHS was founded in 2015 by Ms. Howell-Lindsey since there was no straightforward way for students who were not Deaf or Hard of Hearing themselves to learn ASL. During the 2015-2016 school year, the club had its first members.

Establishing a class where students can learn ASL, and then having a sign language club for them to attend after school would make learning the language a much easier task for beginners. Any member of the Sign Club will tell you how beneficial and rewarding it is to learn ASL. 

Additionally, there are multiple benefits aside from being bilingual– an article from the American Sign Language University, an online tool for ASL students and teachers, found that learning American Sign Language helps develop awareness and sensitivity to cultural and linguistic diversity.

Isidro explained how the club functions and what activities they do during meetings.

“As the president of the club, I decided to change things compared to the last few years. Before, we were teaching straight from the packet, and I thought that since we learn sign language growing up by doing hands-on activities, [members could learn better] by doing games and other activities to get students involved,” Isidro said.

Club members playing Uno, communicating only through sign language. Credit: Faithe Lindsey, 42Fifty.

Some of the activities are similar to the way students learn in language classes offered at OHS; if you need to go to the restroom or have a question, you have to ask in sign language. Immersion during class is one of the best ways to rapidly advance language progression. Language immersion works the same in ASL.

Some examples of games played during club meetings include hangman and Uno, both using only signs to communicate. The Uno deck used is a specially made version from Ms. Karline Pfalzgraf, a teacher at OHS.

Sign club meets every other week on Thursdays in room 117 from 2:45 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

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