ASL program launches at Walker High School, hopes to answer shortage of interpreters statewide

Walker High launches new pilot program seeking to teach kids American Sign Language

WALKER, LA (WAFB) - A sign language program has launched at Walker High School this year to offer a new prospective to students interested in learning American Sign Language (ASL). The class has everything you would expect, from the dry erase markers down to the backpacks scattered across the floor. As the kids settle into the classroom each day, they are not watching the clock tick by. Unlike most classrooms, there’s no talking, and the students are typically laser-focused on their teacher’s every gesture as they try to uncover their hidden meaning.

Katrina Laubouliere, a licensed interpreter, teaches the class and still cannot believe how quickly it has taken off and how invested the students are in learning. When they first introduced the concept, she says the response was overwhelming.

“We’ve definitely been shocked at the response,” said Laubouliere. “They announced the class and the class was immediately full, so we were at capacity at 33 kids.”

As the 33 kids take notes and explore this new language every day, not only are they earning their foreign language credit, but they’re also discovering a lot more about themselves.

“It’s really just changed my life and what I want to do with it,” said Sydni Seighman.

Sydni Seighman
Sydni Seighman (Source: WAFB)

Seighman, a sophomore at Walker High, says it’s an answer to that dreaded question of what she wants to do when she grows up.

“Before this, I thought I was going to be a vet like 100 percent down with it and going for it 100 percent, and then I came to this class and was like, wait a minute, that’s not what I want to do at all,” Seighman added.

Now, she wants to be a sign language interpreter, and for many students, the class is teaching them the basics and setting up that career goal as a real possibility.

“I went from just knowing the alphabet to actually being able to have a conversation with somebody,” said Seighman. “We constantly don’t talk at all in class and it’s crazy how we can all understand what’s happening when we knew nothing before.”

The class allows students to partner up and practice their own conversations. Additionally, at least three times per week, a member of the deaf community comes in to truly put their skills to the test.

“Being able to just jump completely into it without having like a life vest to save us, it’s so cool being able to actually be completely submerged in all of it,” said Seighman.

“It’s hard work to become an interpreter and there’s a lot of things that go into it, but these kids are definitely on the right track,” Laubouliere added.

In 2020, the school plans to offer two more advanced courses to the ASL curriculum. The goal is to better prepare the students to get certified after graduation and hopefully fill the growing need for interpreters across Louisiana.

“Growing up as a child of deaf adults here in this community and recognizing the shortage of interpreters, we tried to really think about how can we help that problem and what can we do to improve the resources in our area?” said Laubouliere.

Katrina Laubouliere teaches the ASL class at Walker High
Katrina Laubouliere teaches the ASL class at Walker High

It’s a rare chance that Walker Principal Jason St. Pierre knew he had to bring to his students.

“Our kids are using what they learned immediately and they get to impact other people’s lives,” said St. Pierre.

As the class continues to take off, the school hopes they can serve as a model to spread the program to other schools across the state. Those involved admit it would be amazing to accomplish that goal, especially starting at Walker High.

“As much as we get it into schools and get kids doing relevant work and making a pipeline to a good paying job, that’s what our goal is here at Walker High,” said St. Pierre.

“I’m so proud of not only this program and the school giving us the opportunity to do this, but these kids are so fired up,” Laubouliere added.

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