Sign of the Times: ASL Teacher Amy Andersen’s Reach Goes Beyond the...

Sign of the Times: ASL Teacher Amy Andersen’s Reach Goes Beyond the Classroom

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Ocean City High School ASL Teacher Amy T. Andersen with two former students Michael Beebe and Valerie Galderisi at a pep rally in her honor. Because of Andersen's impact, sign language classes at the Ocean City Free Public Library fill up fast.

By Maddy Vitale

Call it the “Amy influence.”

New Jersey Teacher of the Year Amy Andersen’s reach is extending far beyond the Ocean City High School classroom.

Sign language classes offered at the Ocean City Free Public Library from March 8 through May 10 have already filled up. It could be because Andersen has inspired so many to learn not just American Sign Language, but also the culture, Julie Brown, adult programing librarian explained Wednesday.

“It shows how much influence Amy Andersen may have played in people wanting to learn about sign language,” Brown said. “Amy gets the kids excited at the school level about learning sign language and the culture. They get their family and friends excited and it is a domino effect.”

The demand for the 10-week class with levels 1-3, is clear by the waiting list of more than 25 people just for the first two levels, Brown said. Each class is capped at 30 students.

From the first time the library offered the free classes in 2016, library patrons have shown a great deal of interest in learning sign language. The library decided to offer the program several times a year. The classes will be offered again in the summer or fall, Brown noted.

Ocean City Adult Programming Librarian Julie Brown says she can see how much Teacher of the Year Amy Andersen has inspired people to learn American Sign Language, based on the number of people who sign up for the classes offered at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

She said the library began offering sign language because Karen Mahar, director of the library, was speaking with Andersen about her classes. Mahar also spoke with community members who said how great the classes were for the students at the high school.

“I asked Amy to work with me to ask the instructors to come to the library and she connected me to them,” Brown said. “There are lots of opportunities to take the classes. And if there is a waiting list, I call people for future classes.”

Andersen remarked in an email Wednesday that when the library contacted her to teach the ASL class she knew to reach out to some of her very skilled colleagues. Without a second thought (Julie) Brown interviewed and hired them.

“A week later, the class was full, with a waiting list,” Andersen said. “I teach my students that we are allies to the deaf community, part of a group working towards a common cause. In 1988 a group of empowered and self-determined students from Washington D.C. showed us that what deaf people can do far outweighs their inability to hear.”  

American Sign Language instructor Dan Crisham teaches students in a class at the Ocean City Free Public Library in 2016, the first year it was offered at the library. (Courtesy Julie Brown)

The American Sign Language course is taught by three instructors, all recommended by Andersen. The classes are on Thursday nights from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the library.

Levels 1 and 2 combine beginner and intermediate learning. Level 3 is for participants who have either gone through the other two classes or have experience in American Sign Language. In the latter case, the student is instructed to watch a short video or describe his or her previous ASL experience.

The classes are interactive. There are handouts and instructions. The students develop their skills and learn about the deaf culture as well as the signs, Brown explained.

“It is always exciting when the classes start,” Brown said. “The enthusiasm of the teachers and the students really shows.”

Brown noted that everyone is taking the class for his or her own unique reason. Many educators come to the class to learn how to sign with deaf students in their classes. There are also a lot of people who attend the classes who have family or friends who are deaf, and they want to be able to communicate better with them.

“People come for personal reasons. It validates to me why we offer the classes,” Brown said. “There are people who have a real desire to learn the language.”

Ocean City Free Public Library is located at 1735 Simpson Avenue. For information about American Sign Language classes or other programming, contact Adult Programming Librarian Julie Brown at 609-399-2434 ext.5222 or email jbrown@oceancitylibrary.org

American Sign Language classes are filling up at the Ocean City Free Public Library.(Courtesy Ocean City Free Public Library)