Students make their case for sign language classes

By on April 20, 2014
Oliver Middle School students who presented a proposal to Brockport Board of Education to begin sign language classes (l to r) Troy Ferris, 8th Grade; Gabby Schlieter, 6th Grade; Brittni Corter, 6th Grade.

Oliver Middle School students who presented a proposal to Brockport Board of Education to begin sign language classes (l to r) Troy Ferris, 8th Grade; Gabby Schlieter, 6th Grade; Brittni Corter, 6th Grade.

It’s something that would be intimidating even for an adult – getting up in front of a school board of education and making a proposal. But, at the April 1 meeting of the Brockport School Board of Education, three Oliver Middle School students did just that.

Sixth graders Gabby Schlieter and Brittni Corter, and eighth grader Troy Ferris requested that the district offer a class in sign language for 7th and 8th graders as well as high schoolers.

The three came armed with a petition (with more than 200 signatures) and a PowerPoint® presentation.

Gabby says she realized the district needed to offer sign language classes while volunteering at the Hill School helping special needs students.

“A couple of students are non-verbal. They use sign language and can tell us what they want, and we can tell them what to do,” Gabby explains.

She has never learned sign language, but has mastered a few hand gestures enabling her to communicate with the students.

Gabby, Brittni and Troy did their homework while compiling their presentation. They collected signatures for their petition and contacted other school districts in Monroe County to see if sign language was offered as an elective.

Half of those districts polled said yes and Gabby says she knows of many other districts which offer the course.

The out-of-pocket cost was also included in the presentation and each board member received an information packet.

“We also have a teacher (a sign language interpreter already on staff) who would like to teach the class,” Gabby says.

She explains that the students are proposing sign language be offered as a ‘special’ in 7th and 8th grades and as a high school elective.

Gabby’s mom, Lisa, is very proud of her daughter. She says Gabby has the ability to empathize with others and is always ready to help.

“She was helpful even as a toddler,” Lisa says. “I couldn’t believe I was watching my daughter (during the presentation). She and her friends care more about others than themselves.”

Besides her volunteer work at the school district, Gabby is involved in a number of activities including the Hamlin Royals youth group and a local horse sanctuary.

She is also a recipient of the Matthew J. Fitton Award which recognizes students who show a strong work ethic.

Not surprisingly, Gabby says she’s considering a career in education. “I would like to be a special education teacher,” she says.

Gabby and her mom say District Superintendent Dr. Lesli C. Myers and members of the school board were very impressed with the professionalism of the students and their proposal.

The district is now considering the proposal and the students are awaiting that decision.

“The superintendent and school board are very approachable,” Gabby and Lisa say. “They’re always available.”

Superintendent Myers said the district will continue to update student presenters as decisions are made.

“Their presentation opened conversations about relevant coursework while keeping our students’ interests in mind,” Dr. Myers says. “The executive cabinet is considering options including offering an American Sign Language Club and a future American Sign Language course.”

Provided photo