The language of understanding

ASL is a popular class at Washougal High School

Washougal High School ASL students ham it up as they rehearse their rendition of the love song, “Some Say Love.” Pictured above, from left to right, are Austin Smith-Brown, Spencer Adams and Scott Nelson. Tanner Baldwin is in the center. Buy this photo

ASL is a popular class at Washougal High School

Students in Washougal High School’s American Sign Language class come away with more than just a language skill that could help them get a job or lead to a career. They also learn to appreciate diversity and gain understanding of the deaf culture.

Tami Grant, a WHS graduate, is the ASL teacher and a nationally certified interpreter. She started the program as a part-time teacher in 2006 with a handful of students. Now, it has grown to approximately 150 students studying their first to fourth year of the language.

The program was showcased with a performance at the WHS Washburn Performing Arts Center last week. Students took to the stage and signed the words to popular songs, complete with costumes, props and choreography.

“ASL is a visual language and I wanted to demonstrate the beauty and visual aspect of it,” said Grant. “We take a few extra steps to make the show entertaining to both people who know ASL and those who do not.”

The end-of-semester shows have become a big part of the class’ popularity.

“They have a lot of fun putting these on,” Grant said. “For many students who are not in drama, band or choir, this is their only chance to get on a stage and perform. And the students work hard to learn their songs, perform them well and earn a spot in the shows.”

Grant said her goal for students is to develop an ASL vocabulary, understand its grammar and be conversational in the language. She also teaches the students about deaf culture, norms and history.

Senior Sydney Niemi,in her third year of ASL and club treasurer, has enjoyed learning about deaf society.

“I see a deaf person and understand that they are really the same as everyone else.” Niemi said. “I know I can assist deaf customers and that could set me apart from others for a job.”

ASL has become a popular alternative to the standard foreign language options in high school. “The visual part of ASL really makes sense to a lot of people who may struggle with speech issues in another language,” said Grant. “Some students are hands-on learners and we are definitely a hands-on class.”

That was the case for senior Anthony Valdez, ASL Club president and third-year student.

“I considered taking Spanish but when I saw people involved with ASL I got interested in it.” he said. “It turns out I have a knack for flipping English language into ASL language. It comes easy to me.”

Two summers ago, Valdez worked at a summer playground with hearing and deaf children. Using his ASL training, he was able to help the children get along and communicate.

“I may try to make it a career, but I am unsure yet,” he said.

For Grant, this class is more than just language.

“We don’t have control of a lot of things in our lives, but we do have control over how we treat people. This class lends itself to those types of discussions,” she said. “I hope the students come out of class with an understanding that everyone is different and you can’t make quick judgments about anyone. Everyone has abilities and disabilities. If you assume someone has a limitation you may miss out on knowing some pretty wonderful things about that person.”