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Inside our Virtual Interest Clubs: American Sign Language

At Rocketship, enrichment classes are how we integrate content into our students’ days that they normally wouldn’t have. Affluent schools often offer music, art, science, engineering, drama, dance, foreign languages, and the list goes on. If we don’t offer these experiences to our students, will they have access to them somewhere else? Our students deserve these expanded learning opportunities, and it’s up to us to ensure they have them.

When we made the decision to go virtual this year, we turned our enrichments into what we now call Special Interest Clubs. Every day. our students can log on to Zoom and join their favorite club. We currently offer Spanish, poetry, chess, yoga, American sign language, Actor’s Studio, cooking, coding, art, multimedia, science, Folklorico dancing, and line dancing! And wow, you’d be surprised how dear these clubs are to our students’ hearts.

On our Teacher PD Launchpad, teachers can learn how to start their own virtual interest club. Here today, we have Ms. Kathie Barragan from Rocketship Sí Se Puede Academy here to tell us about her experience leading her school’s new American Sign Language club!

Our new reality in the era of COVID-19 is creating new challenges. But it’s also creating new opportunities to innovate in order to best serve our Rocketeers.

It hadn’t occurred to me before, but one day a fellow colleague, who is a person that is hard of hearing, expressed the importance of being able to see people’s mouths when they speak because a large percentage of the way they gather information is through lip reading. With wearing a mask being the new way of life, it is extremely hard for a person who is deaf or a person who is hard of hearing to communicate. This is why I believe American Sign Language (ASL) is going to be an incredibly important language, now more than ever.

So I started an ASL club. I think it’s incredibly important to harness that joy, expression, and creativity in our Rocketeers when it comes to their school experience and one way that we are able to do that is through these amazing interest clubs. Being an educator given such a great opportunity, I wanted to not only create a space for fun and enjoyment but also wanted to offer a skill that will hopefully make an impact on our students’ lives and the lives of others. ASL isn’t just a fun club or activity you can do but it’s an actual language. ASL has been something that I have been incredibly interested in since a very young age, but hadn’t committed myself to become fluent. I believe this was an incredible opportunity for myself and our Rocketeers, especially during this time of change, to get creative and learn something new together.

Distance Learning through Zoom is another great example of how my students can benefit from knowing ASL. The barrier between student and teacher has thickened through the switch to virtual learning. I have heard from other teachers that my students are using what they have learned in ASL club to communicate over Zoom while they are muted. This gives the students more of an opportunity to participate in class and an alternate choice from coming off mute or typing in the chat.

It brings me great joy to enrich students’ learning and see them pick up the lessons so fast. They are excited and crave to learn more. I meet with my students Tuesdays and Thursdays for a 45-minute block during their lunch. I start the class by greeting every student by name and doing a little check-in before starting. We usually stick to one theme or lesson each week broken into two days. Most recently we learned words associated with Autumn/ Fall. After explaining the signs and practicing with a story I wrote, I like to give the last 15 minutes or so for the students to share what they have learned. In this lesson in particular, students told their true or made-up stories while signing the keywords they have learned from the lesson. It’s amazing to be able to have a kindergartner sign and share with the whole class, then a moment later, a 4th grader sign and share in the same space.

Parents also seem to be positive about the club and excited that their students are learning this new skill, a few parents even join in on the learning. I am humbled and excited to continue this work and appreciate the opportunity to share my experience with the Rocketship community.


Published on November 2, 2020

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