Warren, Minn. high school’s sign language class opens students to deaf culture
WARREN, MINN.--Some students in Warren, Minn., sang but didn't make a sound. Poised in front of laptops Wednesday, their fingertips danced in the air as they expressed the lyrics of popular songs ranging from Maddie and Tae's "Girl in a Country S...
WARREN, MINN.-Some students in Warren, Minn., sang but didn't make a sound.
Poised in front of laptops Wednesday, their fingertips danced in the air as they expressed the lyrics of popular songs ranging from Maddie and Tae's "Girl in a Country Song," to NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye" through American Sign Language for a new class.
Warren-Alvarado-Oslo (Minn.) High School is among a small number of schools in the state to offer sign language as a foreign language.
Besides having some fun with it-sign language replaces the concept of note-passing in class-students say it's exposed them to deaf culture and opened doors to communicating with others.
Freshman Julie Rittman said some might dismiss the value of learning sign language, but the class has changed perspective.
"When you start learning sign, you start to love sign," she said. "It's an opportunity, really, to learn it."
Participation is vital for the class, said instructor and certified interpreter Danelle Klassy.
Students have learned hundreds of signs related to money, numbers and adjectives. They tell stories, sing songs and do other activities through signing, such as identifying other students in the classroom, she said.
Several said they sign outside of class. At a hockey game early this year, freshmen Kaitlynn Johnson and Maleah Lee were talking about signing and drew the attention of a man nearby who recognized the language, they said. Although they hadn't learned a lot of signs yet, they could still hold a conversation, they said.
"He still asked us where we were from and we got to know his name," said Lee. "We actually found he was a professor at the university."
Freshman Alaina Olson said the class has influenced her consideration to be an interpreter. Her father, superintendent of the School for the Blind in Grand Forks, has also introduced her to people at the North Dakota School for the Deaf in Devils Lake, she said.
Community is an aspect of the class, too. Students who know sign language can now communicate with the three or so deaf residents in the community, a high number for a small town like Warren, said Klassy.
Students have also signed the national anthem at a few basketball games, and more recently visited an elementary school to sign stories for them, she said.
"It opened the door to elementary students," she said. "They could see that signing is offered in high school, so many of them were excited about it."
Principal Wade Johnson said the class has been a great choice for students.
The district had struggled to offer a Spanish class due to lack of interest and couldn't find a teacher, he said. A School Board member suggested offering a sign language class in its place. After discovering several area colleges and universities accept sign language as a foreign language credit, he felt confident about offering it, he said.
"It's something they're going to use," said Klassy.
She and Johnson said students likely embrace the class because they sense a better shot at learning the language.
"You can't get fluent (in a language) when you start at ninth or 10th grade," Johnson said. "It's best to start when you're a young kid. I think they see becoming fluent as a possibility, whereas in other languages, it's pretty tough."
The popular class will be expanded to two sections next year.