Academics / Community

Studying Sign Language at Dana Hall

You may think that a standard foreign language class includes people talking, listening to foreign music, or maybe watching movies, but for Gwen Field, mainly hand motion is what occurs. Sign language may be known as a common language with the deaf community; however, a lot of people in the hearing community don’t think of it as a language. Maybe that will change.

Gwen Field, class of 2021, has been taking an independent study class of American Sign Language for two years, instead of Dana Hall’s language offerings. She said to me, “languages have always been hard for me, it’s just very difficult for me because I am a very visual person and not that many things about languages are visual. When I heard that I could do an independent study, I immediately tried to find sign language tutors.”

To apply for the independent study language, according to Freya Maltz, Upper School Administrative Assistant, the student has to fill out an application form for the Independent Study Program. Meanwhile, the teacher has to fill out a curriculum for the year which has to be approved. When that is done, it goes back to the Academic Office to be reviewed by Jessica Keimowitz, Director of the Upper School, Nia Jacobs, Academic Dean, and Cynthia Welch, Assistant Director of the Upper School. According to Ms. Keimowitz, “each Independent Study application must be signed by the department head before it can be reviewed, so the department head has to approve of the course before it comes back to the Academic Office.” She also noted, “we only consider applications for independent study courses when we don’t offer the specific course at Dana Hall. In other words, if someone came to us with a proposal to take US History online as an independent study, we wouldn’t approve that, since we offer US History here.”

Gwen has been interested in American Sign Language for a long time. She has been riding for years, an interest that brought Gwen into sign language when she met a girl at her old barn who was deaf. Her riding coach at that barn taught her some sign language, but not enough to have a substantial conversation. She wanted to know more sign language and hopes to pursue her language studies.

Gwen eventually found an ASL teacher in Connecticut. She meets with her tutor online, twice a week, during the evenings. In her one-on-one class sessions, she works from an online textbook. She said, “I wish I had a group. That would be really helpful because I don’t get to practice that much.”

You may be thinking that Gwen’s lessons are completely silent. That’s not the case; Gwen speaks English with her teacher when the material is being introduced to her, but once that is done she uses sign language. Right now in her class she is learning how to sign a song!

Gwen hopes to see sign language recognized as a world language in schools. Also, she hopes to help raise awareness of the deaf culture, which is beautiful and not always recognized the way they should be. All people should be treated equally, and more people learning sign language can help us reach that goal.