ASL signs ‘hello’ to World and Classical Languages department

Starting in the 2022-2023 school year, Naperville Central will offer two different level classes of American Sign Language. The course is currently in the process of approval by the Board of Education.
ASL first saw interest when District 203 sought to expand its language offerings.
“The original discussions began probably around five years ago,” said Ignacio Gamboa, World and Classical Languages department chair. “[District administration] asked us to basically search to find out what the interest was at the time.”
During this initial conversation, ASL was being considered along with Arabic, Japanese and Russian. However, these early efforts shortly died down due to a lack of consistent interest and resources.
“When we want to offer those languages, the number one challenge is finding a certified teacher,” Gamboa said.
Although no new courses manifested from that discussion, Central soon saw an ASL club form.
“It could have been a coincidence that both of them at the same time began to surface,” Gamboa said. “Right around that time it became something of interest for students and staff.”
As recently as six months ago, the discussion was renewed when the District called for further exploration of ASL in a curricular setting. Both North and Central began planning by examining other successful ASL programs.
“[District 204], for all three high schools, offer at least one one course of ASL,” Gamboa said. “Metea for example, has a really, really expanded program for their students. So since then, we have reached out and communicated with those high schools to see how they went about implementing it.”
Programs in and around District 203 have seen success introducing new language courses by first introducing two levels, with one section of each, and then expanding based on student interest. For the time being, more preparation still needs to be done before any instruction can take place.
“The next steps will be for us to develop a curriculum to implement for that 2022 to 2023 school year,” Gamboa said.
Another hurdle that ASL must take on before it can hit the ground running is enrollment. This is especially difficult to overcome when ASL cannot be offered in junior high due to limited resources.
“When kids begin a language in junior high schools they feel committed to continue in that language,” Gamboa said. “Even for those kids who take Chinese school, through their own resources, they come here and continue taking Chinese.”
Breaking kids loose from a language they have already spent time learning is difficult, which means ASL must draw more students from alternate areas besides other foreign languages.
Those who do decide to pursue ASL can find it very rewarding. While deaf and hard of hearing people do not make up a considerably large portion of the population, loved ones and family members are often some of the first people to pick up ASL in order to communicate with imparied friends and family.
“I did not realize just how special ASL is or for a large portion of our population out there,” Gamboa said. “I have learned, and this is through talking with my colleagues at Metea, Waubonsie and Neuqua, that most of those kids have some sort of personal connection with ASL and using ASL to help others.”
Learning Behavior Specialist and former ASL club sponsor Alyssa Sprovieri has extensive experience communicating with deaf and hard of hearing friends and family.
“My girlfriend is deaf,” Sprovieri said. “So we primarily use ASL in my household.”
Like many ASL users, Sprovieri learned to sign in order to connect with someone in her life.
“Before I taught at Naperville Central I lived in Philadelphia,” Sprovieri said. “My best friend in Philly was a sign language interpreter and had adopted a deaf son, so I was just constantly around it, watching them communicate.”
After the death of that friend, Sprovieri took up ASL and began taking classes.
“I wanted to be able to communicate specifically with my friend’s son,” Sprovieri said. “But I just wanted to be able to communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing community overall.”
Sprovieri is excited at the prospect of offering ASL to students as a course.
“There’s a deaf community, literally right outside our doors,” Sprovieri said. “There are deaf students and hard of hearing students here at Central, some of them sign and some don’t. But just in terms of providing access to that community and that culture, that’s huge.”
Unlike all of the languages currently offered at Central, ASL has no written form and will be a different experience to learning languages like Spanish or French.
“Everything’s very expressive,” Sprovieri said. “When we think about components of language, we don’t necessarily think about our nonverbals, but in ASL, everything’s nonverbal.”
A common misconception about ASL is that it is simply a nonverbal translation of typical English, but ASL has its own grammar structure and nuances just like every other language.
“In the other languages offered here there’s a cultural component too,” Sprovieri said. “I think when people think about the deaf and hard of hearing community, they don’t think of them as having their own culture, but they really do have their own culture and that’s something to learn about as well.”
Gamboa and Sprovieri both hope addition of ASL to the course catalog helps expand the opportunities and connection students have with cultures outside their own.
“I’m beyond thrilled that this is going to be a course for our students here at Central,” Sprovieri said. “I think this is just huge for our kids. This is a whole new perspective, and it’s going to mean something to the deaf and hard of hearing community too.”