Heritage High School in Catoosa County is proud to be blazing a trail, and officials hope other schools in Georgia will follow suit.  The school's American Sign Language class is in its third year, and is one of only six in the state.  Dr. Lisa Godfrey introduced the class to Heritage, and says the program is poised for growth in the years to come.

The class benefits both hearing students, and those who are deaf.  The hearing students learn a new language, since the state Legislature declared ASL a foreign language, with credits counting the same as French, Spanish and German.  The deaf students, once isolated with limited communication among only themselves and a translator, now have dozens of students with whom to interact.

Dr. Godfrey credits Heritage principal Ronnie Bradford for supporting the program.  "You can't have a successful new class unless the administration supports you, and they have certainly done that here at Heritage.  He's as proud of it as anyone."

Sophomore Steele Clowers was looking for a challenge when he signed on to take the class, and said it has exceeded his expectations.  "This really opens doors for us," he said.  "If you work in a restaurant, and a deaf customer comes in, you can communicate.  They really appreciate that.  Plus, after I get out of school, I should be able to interpret when needed.  Not everyone can do that."

Freshman Titus Gonzalez enrolled at Heritage this year with his two sisters.  All three siblings are deaf.  He said, "They treat us like everyone else.  We participate in sports, theater, and other activities.  Hearing students sit with us at lunch, and it's not just ones in this class.  Everybody's encouraged to learn how to sign, and we sort of help teach them."

Having those extra "teachers" on hand is a blessing, according to sophomore Meagan Beavers.  "They don't make fun of us if we get something wrong," she said. "They help us learn the language better.  They're some of my best friends, I eat lunch with them every day."

"This class has created a culture of signing and sensitivity on the Heritage campus," Dr. Godfrey said.  "Our deaf and hard-of-hearing students are active in the school and the community.  They're learning to be valuable citizens, and our hearing students are too.  This class is a great way to help all our students.  I appreciate Heritage for taking the extra step and adding a new and unique program that has so much value."

The class's next big project is called Signsational, a night of deaf literature at Heritage High School on April 15.

Contact David Carroll at dcarroll@wrcbtv.com

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