OCM BOCES Hosts American Sign Language Rally Written by Chris Kulle, Public Information Specialist (CNYRIC)
On Apr. 16, Onondaga-Cortland-Madison (OCM) BOCES and the Central New York Regional Information Center (CNYRIC) partnered to host the American Sign Language (ASL) Rally, held at the OCM BOCES campus. Students and teachers traveled from as far as Gowanda and Cleveland Hill to be part of the event.
The rally provided an opportunity for ASL students to put what they’ve learned into practice, as they took part in different activities that tasked them with using sign language during participation. Joining them in the fun were students from the OCM BOCES Program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, who gave the ASL students the perfect opportunity to practice their craft with an invested audience of their peers.
The event began with a “Speed Chat,” which served as an icebreaker for the two student groups, placing them across a table from one another and asking that they begin to communicate using sign language. After 90 seconds, the lines moved down, giving students the opportunity to speak with many of their peers to kick off the day.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking at first,” according to Sayge Hill, a sophomore from the East-Syracuse Minoa (ESM) Central School District, when describing the icebreaker activities that began the day. “But it did get easier once I started, and it was great being able to interact with people who are native to the language.”
Jade Clabeaux, a freshman from Gowanda High School, felt the same way. “I liked the Speed Chat; I was scared at first, but it was pretty cool!” said Clabeaux. "I liked being able to socialize with deaf kids one-on-one.”
The activities proved to be the bread-and-butter of the rally, putting students into groups and having them draw from their ASL knowledge in order to participate.
The Elephant Game:
This game required a combination of attentiveness and quick reflexes. Students formed a circle around a group leader, who pointed to the “elephant” of the group. That student then replicated an elephant’s trunk using their fists, while the peers on that student’s immediate right and left used their hands to form the elephant’s ears. If any of the three involved slipped up, they were out for that round!
What Am I?
A student “volunteer” had a notecard pinned to their back, designating them as an “object,” such as a piece of furniture, type of food, mode of transportation, etc. That volunteer then progressed down a line of their peers, whittling down the list of possibilities as they tried to figure out who or what they “were.” Respondents were limited to a “yes” or “no” answer, but volunteers were afforded ample opportunity to flex their ASL skills in the effort to reveal their true (to the game) identity.
Speed Chat 2.0
A variation of the Speed Chat program that kicked off the rally, this activity saw student groups form two circles, with the outer circle rotating around the inner circle at 90 second intervals. Once the outer circle completed a full rotation (i.e. every person on the outer circle has spoken to every person on the inner circle), the activity was complete. This gave students a chance to directly converse with their peers for a second time, but with a higher level of comfortability.
Following the group activities, students Payton Beckwith and Erin Hutton gave an ASL performance of the Eli Young Band’s “Crazy Girl.”
Those in attendance were also treated to a performance by Sunshine 2.0, a performing arts troupe based out of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The traveling troupe’s visit was highlighted by a skit showing what the deaf experience can be like for a child, while other performances trended more toward the lighthearted, whimsical side.
The spoken word, for many of us, might represent the most automatic kind of muscle memory there is. With this thought in mind, seeing the ASL students be mindful of keeping their speech to a minimum while focusing on communicating via sign language was commendable, even if it wasn’t always easy.
“I actually knew what to expect coming in,” said Taylor Abrams, an ESM sophomore. “Even still, there were times that I had to remind myself to focus on speaking with my hands, rather than my voice.”
ESM freshman Bella Bryant echoed that thought. “When I got there, I was a little scared because I didn’t know if it was going to be hard to not talk all day, or if I’d be able to relate to anyone,” said Bryant. “But by the end of the day, I’d met so many new people with great senses of humor, and I had so much fun.”
It is that last sentiment that permeated throughout the entirety of the rally; not just putting your skills to the test, academically, but actually immersing yourself in an environment, all while meeting new people. "Learning about the culture in class seemed to be really interesting, but actually experiencing it was very fun,” said Cleveland Hill High School senior Chris Jackson.
Between the activities, the performances by Sunshine 2.0, and the general atmosphere of the rally, ASL students were afforded real-world opportunities immerse themselves in this culture. It also served as an age-old reminder that under the surface, many of us might be more similar than we’d realized.
“When signing, the mood changes, and the facial expressions are so much more noticeable,” offers Abrams. “It was cool seeing people light up when we’d talk about certain topics, like pets or video games.”
ESM junior Amber Unislawski agrees. “The students I spoke to – especially the deaf students – are some of the nicest, funniest, and most amazing people I’ve ever met,” said Unislawski. “I am extremely happy that I was able to attend; I was truly so happy there, I haven’t laughed or smiled the way I did in such a long time. It made me look at a lot of things differently, and it was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget!”