MONIQUE BATSON — PNGISD sign language class grows impact

Published 12:18 am Friday, October 22, 2021

I’ve always been fascinated with American Sign Language. At about 8-years-old, I came across a large book of my mother’s filled with signs and attempted to teach myself the language.

Born Cajun, the long-running joke was that I cannot talk without my hands. But I wanted to learn to talk with ONLY my hands.

At the start of my second semester at Lamar University, I changed my major from communications to deaf education. While my instructor could hear and speak, out of respect for those that could not, she did not communicate verbally for the remainder of the semester. And as badly as I wanted to excel in that class, I didn’t.

The challenge of learning a language from someone who did not hear or speak was one I couldn’t master.

So when my son told me he would be taking ASL III his junior year of high school with a deaf instructor, I was initially nervous. It began his freshman year when he was to pick a foreign language. The two before him opted for Spanish. But this one has always marched to the beat of his own drum (that was a hard cliché to pass up; he’s literally a drummer).

When he first picked ASL, I was thrilled. And he excelled in it. Every December, the large assignment was to sign along to a Christmas carol of the teacher’s choice. And every December, I recorded him over and over again while he practiced whatever song he had been given. Eventually, by the end of his sophomore year, he would sign along to every song on the radio.

This was a bit of a relief considering he had previously been drumming on the dashboard to every song.

In April, PNGISD decided to hire a second ASL teacher. The class had become so popular that 140 students wanting to enter had to be turned away. With this opportunity, they hired a deaf instructor. This would add a new level of learning to the students in their 3rd and 4th year, already considered bilingual by this point.

But as his third year began, I had flashbacks of my second semester at Lamar and worried my constant overachiever would fail. (Not necessarily because of him, but my own experience.)

But I didn’t expect what would happen.

See, up until last year, he’s been set on being only one thing — a computer programmer that specialized in video games. In eighth grade, he was looking up the enrollment criteria for MIT. He has always dreamed big.

But not long after beginning his junior year, he started to talk more and more about ASL and how much he was enjoying the class. While his teacher does not hear or speak, she does have an “emergency” interpreter on hand in the event a child is in need. But, my son said, rarely ever is it necessary. Not only are they understanding and learning, but they’re truly communicating.

“She’s so funny,” he said last week of his teacher.

And then, for the first time in his life, he made a life-changing decision.

“I think I want to be an ASL instructor,” he said.

Gone was the boy who wanted to make the next great Fortnite. Gone was the boy that got variations of scientific project kits every Christmas.

Instead, I now had a 16-year-old two years away from college who wanted to devote his life to teaching others a language so very few can use.

And all because our district realized this class wasn’t just popular, but serving an essential service.

I still have intentions on learning the language.

But now I have a particular teacher in mind.

 

Monique Batson is the Port Arthur Newsmedia editor and can be reached at monique.batson@panews.com.