New ASL class getting positive reviews

Emma McDonald and Megan Clinton

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Picture of the wall outside of Ms. Kramer's class in the F Hallway.

Ms. Kramer welcomes all of her students to her class with the colorful mural. She loves how everyone in her classes is so open to learning about ASL and deaf culture (Photo Courtesy of Justin Cerullo).

The 2019-2020 school year marks the first time that American Sign Language (ASL) is being taught at Mason. Last year, the School Board unanimously voted and approved the class due to popular demand from parents and students. This year there were enough students to fill up four blocks of ASL and the school hired a new teacher, Ms. Kathryn Kramer – who is earning high praise from students.

“The class is a very relaxed environment. We come into the class ready to learn and walk out of class with new signs in our vocabulary,” sophomore Justin Cerullo said. 

“Our teacher’s ability to teach sign makes everyone feel able and welcome. There is also a strong drive to learn with the students in this class,” senior Julia Rosenberger said. 

Ms. Kramer was first exposed to deaf culture when she was nine-years-old and her cousin was born deaf. She went on to study ASL and special education at the University of Kentucky and at Gallaudet University, which is the only deaf university in the world. She has been teaching deaf culture and sign language for 15 years.

“I could not ask for a better teacher than Ms. Kramer,” Cerullo said. “She’s the one that gives me the drive and determination to learn and improve our ASL.

The class meets by the TLC, where you can walk by and see multiple posters adorning the walls that Ms. Kramer has put up. On odd days, she teaches four ASL classes. On even days, she teaches ASL at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.

Because ASL is not confined to a specific level of rigor as an IB language class would have,  and because it is new, it has something to offer every age group and level of learning ASL.

In Ms. Kramer’s class, the students are currently learning how to do greetings and signs of basic classroom signals like asking to go to the bathroom, getting water among others. Students like Justin Cerullo are excited to learn more about deaf culture and sign language as the year progresses.

“There are a couple of different goals, one is to establish a deaf culture, so before we immerse ourselves in the class, we want to have a respect for the culture and community,” said Ms. Kramer. “And obviously we students to learn as much ASL as they can and to be able to interact and communicate with a deaf person.”

Picture of student signing “good afternoon” in ASL.

Photo of Sophomore Justin Cerullo showing off a new sign he learned in ASL. In this picture, he is demonstrating how to sign “good afternoon” in ASL (Photo by Emma McDonald).

Despite students positively speaking about the class, students have also expressed concern with one primary aspect of the class: ASL is a mix of high school and middle school students. Though there are only a few middle school students in each class, there is concern over their maturity levels.

“Some of the middle schoolers are immature during class which is disrespectful, especially when we are learning about serious topics,” Rosenberger noted.

This problem isn’t necessarily new nor is it just in ASL classes. Chinese, French, and Spanish classes at Mason also sometimes have middle schoolers from MEH enrolled in them. Mason assistant principal Dr. Kevin Clark pointed out that Mason has been offering language classes for middle schoolers for years. 

“One thing we have tried to develop over the years is a world language program that spans grades six through 12. Many students arrive to us with different levels of language proficiency in a variety of languages, and we try to print and place them in the most appropriate class. We have had middle school students coming up to George mason for years,” Clark said.