The rapidly growing deaf community has proven to be a topic of interest among students and staff in the Harrisburg School District. Since the inclusion of the American Sign Language program, it has grown to become a very popular credit to replace other offered foreign languages such as German and Spanish. Stephanie Kroger, ASL teacher at the high school, explains that her first class of only 12 students grew into 125 students over the course of one year. Since then, the recent expansion of the community has led students and staff to assume that the program has a bright future.
Claire McElory, a sophomore, and Natalie Inskeep, a junior, two students currently enrolled in the course. When asked about their love for the language, they both described their passion for the community and the special culture that comes with it. “ASL is filled with facial expressions that really make the language beautiful,” states Inskeep. They play a big role in the ASL language but remain one of the most overlooked qualities belonging to the deaf culture. Additionally, McElory refers to the applicable uses of sign language by explaining the likelihood that the skill could come in handy for everyday communication.
The ASL community also encourages students not involved to support the language by participating in activities planned by the program. Some notable examples of this include the Augustana Deaf Halloween Party or the Word of the Week Wall. Kroger hopes to expand that list to include the following: National Anthem and Variety Show performances, trips to the South Dakota School for the Deaf, and, finally, fundraising events. Kroger finds these events beneficial to focus people's view of the community “and just expand people’s comfort zone.” The activity most familiar to students at HHS is the Word Wall; it's known for the vibrant, colorful pictures signing an ASL word. At least once a week a new word adds to the wall. Usually, the chosen word pertains to a recent event or holiday: Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Spring Break, Senior Prom, or other relevant occasion. “The word of the week makes it fun for students to learn new signs and it may cause them to look further into the language and consider learning more of it,” explains Inskeep.
The ASL program has overcome many challenges over the years and has displayed its capabilities of evolution for the future. Students can possibly expect the addition of new courses in future years as the interest of ASL 3 and 4 becomes more popular.