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At Avon High, Teens Learn Sign Language


Susan Steers’ language class differs from almost every other one in Connecticut in at least one way. It's silent.

She teaches American Sign Language for three periods a week at Avon High School.

Marc Hilyard, a senior at the high school, is hearing impaired, but is just now delving into the study of ASL.

"The first class was so interesting. We thought she was messing with us, ‘cause she didn't talk to us," Hilyard said.

The class was introduced last year and is offered as enrichment on a non-credit basis, meaning students sacrifice their free period to learn the language.

Nicole Rynne, 15m took the class last year and wants to pursue a career as an ASL translator.

She even takes extra lessons at the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford.

"It's harder for a hearing person to learn sign language because we're so used to talking in full sentences, and with sign language you don't talk in full sentences. You don't use all of the words," Rynne said.

The program is funded by the family of Mellissa Andrew, a student an Avon High who died in crash in a 2010, the summer before her senior year. Sign language was a passion of Melissa's and the district wanted to introduce it in the high school as a tribute to her.

None of the students in the class is deaf, but the teacher is and the students think that makes the class truly special.

"Facial expressions are really important," Hilyard said. "People think sign language is just with your hands doing whatever. It's more with your whole body, your emotion put behind words. If you change your tone of voice or inflection, it's the meaning you put on the word."

What's speaks the loudest in the classroom is the passion Steers instills in the teens every day.

"I'm walking in here like, ‘What am I gonna learn today? It's gonna be a new experience. What's she gonna show us today? Every time I walk into that classroom, I know I'm going to come out with something better than I had before,"  Hilyard said.

The superintendent of schools said he hopes to offer ASL as a for-credit class next school year.

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