Sign of the Times
American Sign Language is a hit with New Jersey high schools , and it ’ s not just because of ‘ CODA ’
WRITTEN BY MARSHA A . STOLTZ PHOTOGRAPHY BY TARIQ ZEHAWI
Salute , and you have mastered your first word —“ hello ”— in American Sign Language .
While the Academy Awardwinning film CODA ( an acronym for child of deaf adults ) has put afresh spotlight on signing , ASL has been gaining prominence in New Jersey since Gov . Chris Christie signed abill in 2015 allowing high schools to credit itasaworld language . “ The well-deserved recognition for CODA was agreat moment for the Deaf community ,” says Elizabeth Hill , executive director for the Department of Human Services Division ofthe Deaf and Hard of Hearing .“ We hope that this recognition inspires others to learn some ASL and more about Deaf culture .”
The 2015 law gives that goal anextra boost in New Jersey , which requires high school students to take five credits of aworld language to graduate .
The state Department of Education estimates there are at least 19 public high schools teaching American Sign Language in Bergen , Passaic , Essex and Morris counties . Ridgewood High School aims to add it to the curriculum inthe fall .
Those signing up for these classes are hearing students . Some are taking it out of an interest in the grammatically sophisticated language . Some students with special needs also gravitate toward ASL . “ It started in 1996 for students with severe speech issues , but now it ’ s avery popular class for hearing students ,” says Lori Lesler , who teaches atwo-level ASL course for juniors and seniors atClifton High School . “ It ’ s agood choice for students who are not good audio processors . For others , it ’ s just unique and visual .”
LIKE THIS Madelyn O ’ Rourkepractices her ASL with Williams Nunez . Students at Mountain Lakes High School are offered American Sign Language ( ASL ) as aforeign language .
HISTORY OF A LANGUAGE
American Sign Language got its start when Jonathan Lambert , a deaf resident of Kent , England , immigrated to Martha ’ s Vineyard in the early 1700s . He brought with him aform of signing and agene for deafness , which he passed on to his children .
Lambert ’ s deaf descendants eventually constituted upto25 % ofsome communities on the island . His signing method was part of a unique hearing / Deaf culture that survived there until the 1950s .
However , it was not until Thomas
Gallaudet brought deaf French-signing student Laurent Clerc to Hartford , Connecticut , in the early 1800s that the American School for the Deaf was founded . They combined Martha ’ s Vineyard and French signing methods to create American Sign Language .
An estimated 500,000 Americans nationwide are culturally deaf ( meaning sign language is their native language ) and use American Sign Language , says Arlene Romoff , co-founder and past president of the Hearing Loss Association of America in New Jersey .
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