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New ASL readers depict today’s teens, class members say

NEF grant helps replace old, outdated materials

Northview — Northview High sophomore Annalise Bowman and junior Joseph Russau want to be able to communicate with all their peers.

Annalise said she has long had classmates who are deaf or hard of hearing. She also has volunteered at the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding and uses her signing skills with younger students in that program.

Joseph is taking the class because “I want to know more about their culture, and what it’s like not being able to hear,” he said. “To be able to communicate, I think it unites us, which is good.”

Both say the supplemental books they are reading in their American Sign Language class are helping them to better understand their deaf and hard of hearing peers.

“The Silence Between Us,” Annalise explained, details what daily life is like for a deaf high-school senior who transfers from a school with only deaf students to a school primarily with hearing students, and how she makes friends there. 

“If you’re learning to sign,” Joseph said, “I believe you should look through the perspective of the person who actually uses it to communicate in their day-to-day life. I feel like this book really gives great insight on what it’s like, the challenges they face and how they overcome them.”

ASL 1 and 2 students have been using, as of January, one of two new books, referred to as “readers.” Thirty-two ASL 2 “The Silence Between Us” readers were purchased with district curriculum funds, and 32 ASL 1 readers — “Deaf not Deaf” — were purchased through a grant from the Northview Education Foundation.

The old books were more than five years old, and had not been used in the classes for at least that long because of their outdated perspectives, teacher Marie DeRegnaucourt said.

The assistive technology described in the old readers also has improved and changed design, she said, and “the perspectives pertaining to the capabilities of our deaf/hard of hearing population have changed as well.” The new readers “are focused less on the struggles of growing up (and) being deaf or hard of hearing, and more about the characters’ successes, normal teenage life and shown in a much brighter way.”

ASL teacher Rowan O’Dougherty, who is deaf, said through an interpreter that the readers are valuable because they “cover, in general, cultural ranges within the deaf and hard of hearing spectrum,” and “show the variety on that spectrum of identities, and how (teen characters in the readers) navigate the world.”

Read more from Northview: 
Pah! An inclusive event
Voices off, connections made

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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