Advocating for an American Sign Language class (ASL)

“I feel like we became a family on this project, and we took on the world together."

Pat-Med HS ASL Project

Advocating for an American Sign Language class (ASL)

12th grade students in Shaun Carlson’s Civics class at Patchogue-Medford High School in New York are working to make their community more inclusive. This year, they launched a project to advocate for an American Sign Language class (ASL) at their school.

Like all GC projects, the students discussed what issues matter to them, and then began their research process. They found that fewer than 1% of Americans speak ASL, contributing to barriers in communicating with deaf people and young people with special needs. Students broke into four teams: Research, Community Experts, Surveys, and Legislative.

Determined to make a lasting change in their final year of high school, the teams worked together to prepare for stakeholder meetings. They brought data demonstrating the need for sign language fluency in their district, and surveyed students and faculty to show broad support. They researched the benefits that an ASL class could bring, including opening up potential career paths for students as interpreters, and creating a more welcoming environment for students who are deaf or have other special needs.

Students met with a broad range of stakeholders in their community. Some were school officials, like their school principal, the director of world language and bilingual programs, the superintendent of schools, and assistant superintendents, as well as locally elected officials, like their town mayor, town council member, and their state senate and assembly members.

The deeper they dug into their campaign, the more passionate they grew. One student, Juliana, reflected: “I feel like we became a family on this project, and we took on the world together."

Students shared the results of their work at the Patchogue-Medford Civics Day to an audience of students, teachers, school district representatives, Generation Citizen staff, and elected officials. The attendees remarked on how prepared and focused the students were, and how inspired the students seemed to be by the experience. Maddison, one of the class members, felt this inspiration: “A year ago I lost my passion for music, and I felt like something was missing in my life. Now I've found a new passion for civics.”

Although it takes at least two years for a new course to be added at their school, the students have a great team ready to partner with a future class: Ms. Lori Cannetti, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, is a proactive ally in finding a teacher who has a degree in ASL and actively finding room for the course, and Assembly Members Joseph Destefano and Doug Smith pledged to continue supporting the students’ effort to make ASL classes a state-certified option for satisfying the world languages requirement. We can’t wait to see if Mr. Carlson’s future classes continue this work!