About 10 million people in the United States are hard of hearing and about 1 million of them are functionally deaf; meanwhile, it is estimated that only 2 million Americans actually sign in American Sign Language (ASL).
Junior Maggie Eberle is currently learning to become one of those 2 million people, and is taking the ASL 2 adult course at the nearby American School for the Deaf (ASD), located about a mile away from KO. This year Maggie has created the ASL Club at Kingswood Oxford in hopes of inspiring more students to learn about the language and the deaf community, as well.
“I wanted to bring sign language and my passion for it to KO because I really wanted people here to be able to learn something new and be able to use it,” Maggie said.
“There’s a separation between the deaf and the hearing communities, and I want to help bring them together. If I could teach maybe even 10 people some basic words and phrases, like ‘How are you?’, then I think that would make a huge difference.”
Some of Maggie’s goals for the club are to teach people the alphabet and their names as well as show people whatever words and phrases they want to learn. “If you have some cool phrase, song, or speech you wanna learn,” she said, “I would be happy to help you with it!” Maggie said she hopes that club members will learn enough of ASL by the end of the year to be able to hold a complete conversation.
Furthermore, Maggie said she is looking to organize a meet-up between kids from KO and ASD in the springtime after ASL club members have learned and practiced enough of signing. “If we could meet up in Blue Back like at Starbucks just to hang out, I think it would be a really cool event and just a crossing of different cultures,” she said. Maggie added that she thinks it would be a great opportunity to meet new friends and use ASL in a real-life situation.
“My first ASL teacher Jennifer once told me that actually learning the language is only 50% of ASL, and the other 50% is going out into the world and actually using what you know,” Maggie said. She explained that because sign language is one of the only ways for deaf and hard of hearing people to communicate, they usually sign really fast because it’s just natural for them.
However, according to Maggie, most of the deaf community appreciate if a hearing person is attempting to communicate with them, so they’re usually happy to try and help. “The speed that deaf and hard of hearing people go is incredibly fast,” she said. “So sometimes it’s almost impossible to catch up as a beginner. But if you ask them to go slow, almost 100% of the time they will comply.”
Junior Cai Kuivila said she is excited to be part of the ASL club this year and can’t wait to learn as much as she can. She said her main goal is to have intelligent and engaging conversations with the deaf people she has met through Maggie so far. “I have already met a few, but I feel uncomfortable and rude not being able to communicate with them.”
Sophomore Brie Toedt said she’s been interested in sign language ever since pre-school, but never really learned anything until Maggie taught her the alphabet. “I just remember that back then I was so annoyed because everyone else learned how to sign quickly and I just couldn’t,” she said. “So last year when Maggie wanted to teach me, I jumped at the chance.” Brie also said that was the moment when she became more fascinated by ASL, so she is now ready to learn even more.
Sophomore Molly Carroll said her interest for ASL began a little differently through her interest in Crocs, which are a popular type of rubber shoe/slipper with holes on top. “Maggie took a picture of me in my Crocs and snapped it to her deaf friends, and one of them is named Max,” Molly said. “He also really likes Crocs, so now we’re good friends. I want to learn sign language so that during the meetup in the spring we can sign about Crocs and actually understand each other.”
Molly also said that she’s really looking forward to just learning some new phrases. “Maggie claims she’s obligated to teach us anything, and I have definitely taken that to my advantage,” she said. “Even if she doesn’t necessarily know a word and has to fingerspell it, she’s there to help you out and correct you if you’re wrong. Maggie doesn’t make you feel stupid if you get something wrong, though, and that’s definitely a plus.” Brie said she agreed wholeheartedly. “Maggie is very good at teaching people; she’s kind and she’s good at explaining things,” she said. “She has a unique passion and excitement for ASL, and it’s contagious.” Brie explained that seeing Maggie so enthusiastic about ASL and life in general made all the other club members feel excited to learn, as well.
While Maggie admits that learning sign language can be very tough for some people, she said that mastering the alphabet, names, and simple songs tended to be easy for most. “Our first meeting went really well, even though most of the people who showed up didn’t know anything about sign language,” she said. “We started with the alphabet and their names. It’s just amazing how much progress we’re already making. It’s so exciting,” Maggie also said that there’s a lot of positivity and interest surrounding the club, and she’s happy to see other students getting involved.
In total, about 30 people have signed up for the club so far and Maggie said that anyone else who wants to join is welcome to! “During the meetings, we’ll usually watch different kinds of videos, learn stories and songs, and sign basic phrases,” she explained. Maggie said she plans for most of the meetings to happen Mondays Lunch 2 in the VQV/epic room, located in Lower Roberts right across from school counselor Chastity Rodriguez’s office. Maggie added that there will also be occasional meetings during PLBs.
Finally, Maggie said she believes everyone should give ASL a try. “ASL is worth learning because there are so many people who struggle with their hearing, so making an effort to talk to them really makes an impact on them and on their day,” she said.
The ASL club definitely seems like a great time, so make sure to give it a try and join this year! You might just learn something new, or at the very least, meet some new friends.