WALLKILL – Anyone walking by Room 200 at Wallkill Senior High School while Melissa Mourges is teaching might notice that it is quiet enough to hear a pin drop inside—however, they would be surprised to discover that, in reality, there are many conversations happening! In fact, students are actively listening, speaking, and learning in the new Introduction to American Sign Language (ASL) class.
“The curriculum here relies heavily on group interaction and communication activities,” said Ms. Mourges, a Level 1 American Sign Language teacher who also serves as a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing for the District. In her class, she explains, students learn to communicate in ASL both “expressively” (to others) and “receptively” (through active listening). “We strive to be a “voice off” class, where students can only communicate in ASL or writing throughout the entire class,” she added.
Using classroom instruction as well as several technology applications, such as Nearpod and Schoology, the students have already covered a variety of topics, including learning to “fingerspell” with the ASL alphabet, introducing themselves, giving commands, identifying a person, using complex description, and more. They have also been learning about deaf culture and the creation of such technology as cochlear implants (devices that can help those who are deaf hear again) and hearing aids, as well as the prestigious Gallaudet University, a private university for the deaf and hard of hearing located in Washington, D.C.
“These students are curious and interested,” said Ms. Mourges. “I truly love teaching this class, and I look forward to what the future holds!”
The students are loving the class—and Ms. Mourges—right back.
Grade 10 student Holland Mooney was one of many students to praise both Ms. Mourges and the class. “I really like this class,” said Holland. “It’s been a super positive environment since the first day.”
Grade 9 student Nate Larson and Grade 10 student Cooper Smith both indicated that they enjoy “talking” with their hands, while others, like Grade 9 students Ian White and Riley Martino, say that, among other things, they enjoy learning about deaf culture.
Grade 9 student Joaquin Ruiz indicated his approval of the class with a simple drawing of a few hands using ASL to finger-spell the word “G-R-E-A-T!”
A classroom favorite has been the learning games, which involves students breaking off into teams, or ”stations.” For example, one student may fingerspell a word, a math problem, or even express a full sentence to their team, and the group will respond with a written answer by holding up a small paddle that serves as a mini whiteboard.
“I really like how interactive the class is,” said Grade 9 student Anthony Marz. “The other students in the class are fun to play silent games with.”
Additionally, students expressed excitement that they were the first class to have this opportunity. The District had been interested in adding this course offering since 2019, and Ms. Mourges and Ms. Ellison, a teacher at Ostrander Elementary School, taught both after-school and summer programs in the summer of 2019 and the winter of the 2019-2020 school year. But when the pandemic hit, the idea of launching an entire ASL course became more challenging.
Fortunately, the class was able to begin this year, and Ms. Mourges was able to take on two sections of ASL at the High School, in addition to her work with the District’sdeaf and hard-of-hearing students. The credits satisfy a student’s graduation requirement of having one year of language.
Principal Brian Masopust is impressed with the progress the students have made. “In just two months of ASL study, our students are comfortable participating and presenting in front of the class,” he said. “ASL students are interested and enthusiastic, engaging in kinesthetic activities using movement and technology to communicate. The program has been a great success thus far, and we are optimistic that it will continue to grow in the future!”