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Mounds View High School's student news site.

The Viewer

Mounds View High School's student news site.

The Viewer

Mounds View High School's student news site.

The Viewer

Mounds View High School's student news site.

The Viewer

Soundless storytelling: ASLHS to interpret spring musical

INTERPRETING.+Senior+Haley+Schwendemann%2C+junior+Whitney+O%E2%80%99Connell%2C+senior+Brooklyn+Both+and%0Asenior+Alice+Jerome+at+theater+rehearsal+practicing+for+the+ASL+interpretation+of+Cinderella.
Mara Peacock
INTERPRETING. Senior Haley Schwendemann, junior Whitney O’Connell, senior Brooklyn Both and senior Alice Jerome at theater rehearsal practicing for the ASL interpretation of Cinderella.

Mounds View offers many options for foreign language classes, such as Spanish, French, Mandarin and German. In addition to these classes, students can also take American Sign Language (ASL) with ASL Teacher Damon Johnson. Johnson is deaf and has been teaching ASL since 2000, and before starting at Mounds View in 2019, he taught at other schools in Minnesota, including Coon Rapids, Chanhassen, Champlin Park and some colleges as well. In addition to teaching, he is the president of the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens (MADC). MADC promotes civil and human rights for deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing citizens. 

Currently, Johnson is the only ASL teacher at Mounds View and also the only deaf teacher. Students enjoy taking ASL classes for a variety of reasons, including Johnson’s teaching. “I think he’s one of the best teachers at Mounds View, with just how passionate he is about teaching [ASL] and just how good he is at teaching,” said senior Alice Jerome. 

Over the past five years that Johnson has taught at Mounds View, the number of students taking ASL has increased. This year, there are 174 students taking an ASL class at Mounds View, Johnson said, and in the last two years, the number of students taking ASL 3 and 4 has grown exponentially. As more students become interested in taking an ASL class, Johnson recommends having an open mind when learning the language. “Respect and understanding is important to learn a second language,” said Johnson. Just like other language classes offered at Mounds View, ASL allows students to communicate and connect with more people. “It’s important to have ASL in high schools because we have a higher need for ASL interpreters and it is unique to other languages. There are more chances to meet and have conversations with deaf and hard-of-hearing people,” said Johnson.

Mounds View’s American Sign Language Honor Society (ASLHS) is a sect of the larger ASLHS, which is an organization in many high schools across the United States. Johnson started Mounds View’s ASLHS charter this year and included students from ASL 2-4, with seniors Mehg Solamillo and Jerome voted in by ASLHS members at the beginning of the school year as president and vice president, respectively. ASLHS typically meets every other Wednesday during ReFLECT and is a space for students to practice and improve their signing and plan events. Similar to the National Honor Society, ASLHS provides volunteer opportunities for students to get volunteering hours. 

Notably, ASLHS students are working on interpreting for Mounds View Theater’s spring musical, Cinderella, in early May. Johnson came up with the idea, as other schools that he’s taught at have ASL-interpreted events. “[Johnson] went, ‘Maybe we should interpret for Cinderella and also a choir concert,’ and we went, ‘Well, that’s a lot of work, but we can probably do it,’” said Jerome. 

The interpreted musical will be on opening night, May 2, as indicated on flyers around the school. The performance will include seven interpreters, some of whom are a part of ASLHS and some who just take an ASL class. The interpreters work with Mounds View Theater’s artistic team to figure out the lighting and how fast the actors on stage are talking so the interpreters can practice signing their lines. “There’s a lot of back and forth conversation. Each person has a character, so they’ll talk back and forth, and for me, I’m doing both Cinderella and the Stepmother, so I have to talk to myself, but, for the most part, it’s mostly talking to each other,” said Solamillo. The process will be the same for the songs in Cinderella. ASLHS also plans to interpret the final choir concert this year. 

The new opportunities students have this year to interpret for different events allow them to get a head start on their future. A few students, such as Jerome and Solamillo, plan to go to college to become ASL interpreters. “Four of the interpreters that are interpreting for Cinderella actually are planning to go to college for interpreting, so that’s also just a cool opportunity for us to have on our resume,” said Solamillo. 

One of the primary reasons why Mounds View’s ASLHS began, and an important goal of theirs, is giving back to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in Minnesota, which they do by fundraising. Last December, ASLHS hosted a fundraiser selling ornaments, raising money to help the Metro Deaf School in Saint Paul build a new gymnasium. ASLHS also has future fundraising plans, such as hosting an ASL movie night in May.

As a new club, the ASLHS officers are still figuring out how to run the club to accomplish their goals. “I think in the next couple of years, it will be more established on what we actually do ‘cause I think this year, a lot of our goals is fundraising for the Metro Deaf School. Hopefully, in future years, it becomes more generic club activity rather than just fundraising,” said Solamillo. 

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About the Contributor
Mara Peacock
Mara Peacock, Staff Reporter
Mara is a junior staff reporter, and this year is her first year on The Viewer. Awards: Best of SNO - Soundless storytelling: ASLHS to interpret spring musical Best of SNO - Sports betting: Teens hit the “slots” Best of SNO - The teacher shortage crisis
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