By Steven Keehner
As American Sign Language continues to grow throughout the United States, its presence in Oyster Bay High School is also growing, as seen through the annual ASL breakfast. This event consists of four periods in which all ASL students at OBHS interact with one another by signing. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sisia about the event and a variety of other ASL topics.
I began our conversation by asking what future she saw for ASL in OBHS; she responded by saying she would like to see ASL offered to the middle school students and also to have it become an elective so students can take it for fun, rather than for their language credits. Overall, she hopes to see the exposure of ASL continue to grow throughout the school.
Next, I asked Dr. Sisia what she sees for ASL in the United States. “American Sign Language is the third most common language in the US, and with 70 million Americans having some form of a hearing loss, ASL can be a mode of communication. It’s important for people to know it, especially if you are going into a civil service career.” I have to admit, she sold me on ASL when she made this point.
I then decided to give Dr. Sisia a scenario rather than a question; I asked her to pretend that I was a 9th grader looking to choose a language, and I asked her to try her hardest to convince me to take ASL. Her answer caught me off guard when she said, “Language isn’t preferential. We live in a bilingual-needed country. It’s important to have the skill. If you learn visually, then ASL may be for you.” It was amazing to hear such a humble and realistic answer.
As I wrapped up my short interview, I was offered the chance to sit down at the breakfast, where I could watch the students do their thing. I was very hesitant. With zero knowledge of ASL and not being able to talk while in the conference room, I felt like it just wasn’t going to go well. But, Dr. Sisia mentioned that there were bagels inside, and as a fond fan of bagels, I couldn’t resist. So I went inside to join the quiet, yet eventful festivities.
After Dr. Sisia signed a message to her students, I was paired with Lindsay Gorney, who was incredibly helpful and kind. She initiated a conversation by signing good morning to me. The room was silent; if my eyes were closed, I wouldn’t have even realized that people were communicating, yet what amazed me were the interactions among everyone. I would hear laughter, which was bizarre to see despite the lack of talking. It was fascinating.
This event gave me a new appreciation for being able to talk and communicate the way I can now. I also noticed that ASL made everyone equal in a unique way, as there were no accents, speech impediments, or anything else that could affect someone’s perception of language, which I hadn’t even thought about initially. It looked like I was watching a TV show on mute, everyone was acting like themselves, they just weren’t talking.
I ended up staying at the breakfast for almost the entire period, just watching in curiosity and amazement. It was a very eye opening moment, and while I didn’t end up getting my bagel, I did gain a new appreciation on life, which is something that not even a bagel can do (Unless it’s a rainbow bagel, those are awesome). Thanks to Dr.Sisia, Lindsay, and all of the other ASL students for the experience. If you’re looking to challenge yourself and try something new, then I would strongly point you toward American Sign Language.