The ASL Club at John Rennie

by Sidney Bernard-Dagenais & Brianna Theriault,

Students at John Rennie High School

John Rennie has implemented an American Sign Language extracurricular lunch program for the past year and a half. American Sign Language – or its coined abbreviation: ASL; has been used for a long time by the Deaf community across the United States and Canada to communicate.

ASL is commonly mistaken for English translated into sign language, whereas it is actually its own language, the same can be said for all the sign languages all over the map. ASL is made up of its own native tongue – it has its own rules and grammar that are unique to them just like every other language. There are many forms of sign language around the globe.

Ms. Pastor, who teaches us every Wednesday, is indispensable for the flourishing of the JRHS ASL Club. Yet the true bedrock of our club and how the idea came to fruition is truly because of the two writers of this story, respectively and of course our previous teacher Mr. Webb. We suggested that our school should have more diverse clubs such as an ASL extracurricular club. Our idea was fulfilled by Mr. Webb who constructed it and brought it to life; and so the journey of ASL Club began.

The people who attend our little coterie, many of whom are newcomers to the ASL world who joined for the purpose of learning this manual language, learn that there is so much more than meets the eye. So much subsistence comes with it, such as learning that ASL is its own full-fledged unique language made up of its own rules and definitions; that there is a deep history underneath it, which we get to learn about. Not only that, but we get to try to go through similar experiences, for example one Wednesday during lunch we had to listen to a recording of someone saying multiple words but at different levels of hearing loss – normal, mild and severe and everyone had to guess what words were being said with each level of hearing loss, which really showcases the reality of Deaf people and how their situations differ very much. Some of the members of our ASL Club are Deaf and one student in particular uses ASL and has an oral interpreter.

ASL Club is hosted during lunch for both the juniors and the seniors on Wednesday every week. At the beginning of the year, we learned the basics of ASL and then it eventually advanced to learning much more complex concepts. We started from the ground up and were taught fingerspelling, once we mastered that we would tell each other our names and introduce ourselves. In due course we grasp more words and descriptions giving us more to communicate with each other. Periodically we will all take turns going up to the front of the class and describing someone and so on. We even learned Jingle Bells for the Christmas holidays. We’ve come a far way from just knowing how to finger spell to learning to sing a song in ASL. It shows much improvement and dedication of everyone who is a part of our ASL group.

Ultimately, this is just a small insight of what goes on behind the scenes of ASL Club and how it went from a little suggestion to blossoming into a diverse club for all to join and connect people together. It submerges you into new experiences and outside your comfort zone, but it’s all worth it in the end. The ASL club is made possible by the parascolaire funding provided by the Quebec Government.

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Allan Levine

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