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American Sign Language Students Observe 24 Hours of Silence

 Members of Cleburne High School’s American Sign Language Club experienced a day of silence on Tuesday, going 24 hours with hindered hearing—and no talking.

                Students donned earplugs for a day that would open their eyes and give new perspectives to what is experienced 24/7 by the hearing impaired. They ended their day with a “silent dinner” at a pizza restaurant where they used their signing skills in conversing with each other.

                ASL teacher and club sponsor Rebekah Eudaley proposed the 24 Hours of Silence to her students to coincide with National Audiology Awareness Month.

                “I wanted to give my students a day to see what it’s like for the deaf, including deaf students here at CHS,” Eudaley said. “I want them to experience their struggles to hear and communicate--what it’s like for them, in relating to other students and teachers and to also understand the feelings of frustration in not being able to hear or be understood. We are using the silent dinner as an opportunity to be visible in the community as activists for those who are deaf. The day has included no talking because a lot of the deaf choose not to speak.”

                Eudaley heard from students as their day progressed, sharing through signing and writing how things were going in their classes and with friends. While some commented on the discomfort of the earplugs and the frustration in communicating with others, overall the experience was viewed as a valuable lesson in the challenges felt by millions of Americans who are hard of hearing or functionally deaf.

                “I had one of my students tell me their friend stopped them before they stepped in front of a car in the parking lot,” she said. “He couldn’t hear the car coming. The deaf have to be more aware of their surroundings. Several students had to go inside Sonic and Burger King to place their orders in writing, rather than using the drive-through because they couldn’t speak or hear. One of my students is on the volleyball team. Practice was very different for her today. She couldn’t hear the coach’s whistle and interacting with her teammates on the court was a challenge.”

                Rylie Sims, who serves as president of Cleburne’s ASL Club, went through the day with a muffled sense of hearing.

                “I think the students are amazed, but also confused as to why we are doing this,” she said—in writing. “I have a whole new perspective on what it must be like to be hearing impaired. Your other senses kick in. Paying attention in class is at a whole new level when you can barely hear the teacher. It’s hard—especially when they face the board as they talk.”

                Matthew Lira also used the spoken word, in saying he was having an ‘interesting’ day as he, too, had a muffled sense of hearing.

                “It’s hard not being able to understand what my friends are saying. My hand hurts from writing to friends asking what was going on in class—because I can’t hear.”

                Freshman Nazeret Kuykendall was dealing with her “hearing impairment” as she worked on a Pre-AP Algebra assignment.

                “It’s hard because people look at you and ask you a question, but you can’t say anything,” she wrote. “It’s getting harder with every class. I’m definitely getting an understanding of what it must be like to be deaf.”

                Kuykendall’s teacher, Rikki Taylor, had four ASL students in her third period class who were participating in the 24 Hours of Silence.

                “In Frisco, I coached a deaf player in basketball—she was a starter on our JV team,” Taylor said. “I think it’s good for our kids to know what it can be like to be deaf. I know our ASL students probably struggled in my math class today. I tried to be more detailed in giving my instructions for the assignment in order to help them.”

                Business teacher Kelly Perez was also supportive of the one-day experience which involved several of her students.

                “I think this is a great opportunity for them to understand what some kids on this campus deal with daily,” she said. “In one of my classes I have two students learning American Sign Language who are so kind and empathetic in their relationship with a classmate who is hearing impaired. They now have a better understanding of how things are in her world.”

This latest activity is among several Eudaley has planned for the ASL program this year. Pep rallies now include the signing of the National Anthem by her students, accompanying performances by the band and choir members.

She plans to take her students to the Tarrant County Community College’s “Deaf Deaf World” event in November for a day of signing. Participants will function in the “voice off” zone as they deal with situations very real to the deaf—from placing an order at a restaurant to visiting the doctor--all done in silence as their hands do the communicating.

Eudaley, like those in her classroom, studied ASL when she was in high school. Her relationship with the deaf community began long before that. She grew up in Austin, close to the Texas School for the Deaf.

“We had a large deaf population at our church, where my dad was a pastor,” she said. “I grew up signing. I began interpreting hymns and music for the deaf at a very young age. I had a real want and desire to communicate with them.”

After three years of high school study, Eudaley went on to Lamar University, one of the first colleges in the state to offer ASL as a major, graduating in 2017 with a B.A. which included a teaching certification.

“I chose the field of education over a career as an ASL interpreter because as a teacher you get to form a relationship with your students,” Eudaley said. “I felt I would make more impact as a teacher.”

Before she joined the CISD faculty in the fall of 2018, she spent a semester with Stephenville ISD working with hearing impaired students served through the Brazos Valley Regional Day School for the Deaf.

“They were needing a communications assistant to work with first graders,” she said. “It was a great bridge between teaching little ones and then high school students. I interpreted and worked with deaf students in their core classes and also served as their tutor.”

Now in her second year of teaching ASL, she is focused on building the program at CHS, which is very popular with students. ASL is among the electives offered through the foreign language department.

“To take ASL, you need to have that specific want and desire,” Eudaley said. “It’s hard for ninth graders to get in because so many upper classmen want to take it. Classes fill quickly. We also have the ASL Club and offer ASL through our Jacket Academy after-school program to give students the opportunity to see what it’s all about and learn some signing.”

“I’d love to add a third year of ASL, to let students learn about the role of interpreter and even work with deaf students,” she said. “That would be the natural progression for our program and I know we have students interested. Hopefully it might happen by 2020-21.”

Just like her students, Eudaley remains a scholar of ASL. She is now working toward the sign language interpreter certification.

“I would like to achieve this,” she said. “I want to use signing in music, to convey the feeling and emotion of a song and the performer. While the deaf can feel the vibrations of music and sound, they can’t hear the melody and inflection.”

Her skills in communicating with those who cannot hear are a reflection of the strong association she has with the deaf community. Eudaley attends an Arlington church with a deaf congregation.

“From a young age I fell in love with the deaf community and their language,” she said. “They are like family and I love being a part of that. You can see why the deaf community is so strong—they can communicate with each other and express themselves. They look out for each other, and frankly, you don’t always see that in the hearing world.”

In the spring, Cleburne’s ASL students will be involved in a deaf/blind activity to give them the experience of dealing with the absence of both senses. The reaction she received from her students following their 24 Hours of Silence tells her they are ready for more lessons in empathy.

“This has made me, and my peers, more understanding and considerate of the deaf and their culture,” wrote one student. “I know this has helped my understanding.”

Cutline

American Sign Language students at Cleburne High School spent Tuesday wearing earplugs as participants in 24 Hours of Silence. Students experienced “a day in the life” of those who are hearing impaired, which includes classmates at CHS.