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Bloomington high schools offer sign language as foreign language: ‘I don’t allow voices in class’

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Which foreign language class did you take in high school?

Was it Spanish, French, German--something else?

The Monroe County Community School Corporation has added a new option for its students that teachers are calling life changing and the skills could be applied for years after graduation.

Inside Karla Castellanos' room 312, it might not sound like your typical classroom. In fact, it’s silent and there’s a strict "no voices allowed" policy.

“We established those rules,” Castellanos explained. “It was really hard for them because I don’t allow voices in class and it was really hard for them to adjust, so they could just focus on their eyes and hands and not their voices. That concept of what it’s like to not depend on your ears.”

A concept Castellanos has lived with her whole life and is now teaching to teenagers.

“Well, I grew up deaf and I faced many challenges in the hearing world,” Castellanos added.

At Bloomington North and South high schools, American Sign Language (ASL) is being offered as a foreign language for the first time.

“I definitely think it’s becoming more popular,” said Castellanos, “A lot of people are motivated to learn ASL, not just in high school, but out in the community.”

The Indiana Department of Education recommends that schools introduce language learning at the earliest age possible. Megan Wade-Taxter of the Indiana State Department of Health says, according to Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) data, approximately 250 babies are identified as deaf or hard of hearing annually in Indiana.

The number of school-age children identified as deaf or hard of hearing would be more than that because some may acquire hearing loss rather than being born with it.

“There’s a lot of fear and you shut down, there’s a bridge gap between different cultures. You know, so it’s kind of nice to bond everybody together in that way,” said Castellanos.

Along with an interpreter, Castellanos has other accommodations to help her help the students.

“The light system in my room, you’ll notice that I have a light system for bells,” said Castellanos.

Due to the high demand of Castellanos' class, the Monroe County Community School Corporation is looking at adding more ASL classes in the future.

“I think it’s good for them to learn how to communicate with deaf people and it’s also really a lot of fun," said Castellanos.

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