Student’s service trip to Iowa School for the Deaf is ‘unforgettable’

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Katherine Marcheski, back row left, at the Iowa School for the Deaf. Standing next to her is Jonathan Webb, who teaches ASL at Iowa State.

By Katherine Marcheski ISU Senior, Journalism and Mass Communication

It wasn’t until I was actually sitting in a classroom with a deaf teacher and 11 students, that I had to rely solely on my second language, American Sign Language, which I learned in Iowa State University classes.

During spring break I participated in an service/immersion trip to the Iowa School for the Deaf, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, with nine other Iowa State students. I was really nervous about this trip, but it proved to be an unforgettable learning experience.

ISD is a residential school operated by the Iowa Board of Regents. It’s a beautiful campus that contains two residence halls, an elementary school, a high school and other facilities such as a metal shop and a greenhouse.

We spent three full days there; the first two days were spent in the classrooms with the students and assisting in after school activities. The last day we helped set up for their annual carnival, “Celebrate ISD,” and assisted with activities during the event.

During the first two days, I shadowed the high school teachers. My first morning class I observed a deaf teacher in his Introduction to ASL class for hearing students who were from a local public high school. It was fascinating to me to watch a deaf instructor only using ASL to a classroom of hearing high school students. In my first ASL class we used English quite a bit in the beginning as a bridge into ASL, but seeing high school age students learn and follow along only in ASL was really cool to see.

My most memorable classroom experience was working with a student with her reading comprehension. She read through her assignment and highlighted English words she didn’t know and then, using ASL, I explained to her the concepts. English can be difficult for some deaf students, since ASL is normally their primary language. So it was a great opportunity for me to really utilize my ASL and help her understand the English words using her first language and concepts that she could understand.

It’s easy to think ASL is just English, but it’s not. ASL is a unique and distinct language separate from English. It has its own grammatical rules and dialects. ASL is also primarily the language used by deaf and hard of hearing people of North America. Other countries have their own form of sign language, such as British Sign Language.

It was amazing to me how much I could learn and communicate in a second language. I am much more comfortable using ASL than I used to be. I still get nervous sometimes, or fumble signs, or even worse, sign the wrong word, but I’m learning. Everyone was so hospitable; there is a very welcoming atmosphere present at ISD, and it creates a positive environment for anyone, deaf or hearing.

Ultimately I think this experience was memorable and eye opening. My hope is that more people will take the opportunity to learn a second language. Learning another language has paid off for me both socially and academically. It’s an investment, but it has pushed me out of my comfort zone and it’s brought me closer to multiple cultures.

Katherine Marcheski, a senior from West Dundee, Ill., was an intern in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences communications office