West Hills Students Learn the Power of American Sign Language

A chance encounter with a long-lost relative led Danielle Filip to do something outside her comfort zone.

Filip, who serves as secretary for the ALC Advocacy and Standards Committee, visited West Hills Primary in November to speak to third-graders about sign language and being a sign language interpreter. Presenting to children isn't something that Filip typically does.

But she agreed to speak to them about American Sign Language (ASL), the Deaf community, and interpreting after running into her cousin, school librarian Leslie Vandegrift. Filip said she hadn't had contact with Vandegrift for more than 20 years but happened to run into her at a public event. That's where the idea of Filip presenting to the third-graders came up.

"The kids were so attentive, engaged, and curious," Filip said. "I usually present to adult professionals, so this was outside my wheelhouse. However, this was the most rewarding experience because of their genuine interest in what I was there to share. I hope to go back again to talk to future third-grade classes during this unit in their curriculum."

The idea for Filip's presentation was to offer the students some additional insights into what they were learning in their curriculum. Filip said she wanted to expose the children to a community of people who, though different than them, have an ability that most others lack: speaking through windows and underwater with ASL.

"I also wanted to leave the kids with a spark of a career idea," she said. "It is important to me that the youth understand that interpreting is a viable career that is rewarding personally and professionally."

Aside from the potential career benefit, Filip wanted students to know that learning ASL can set them up for greater success in any career. Another language gives them the ability to attract and engage with a diverse population. Filip wanted the students to understand that ASL is a language and "not just people flapping their hands around”.

"In our conversations, we touched on the fact that Deaf people can do everything except hear," she said.

 Filip said she hoped her visit gave students an awareness and interest in learning ASL as a language so that the district might offer it in high school.

"There are so many opportunities that my meeting with them may provide.  But most simply, I hope that the kids enjoyed the time together learning something that has been a part of my life since I was born," said Filip, whose grandparents are Deaf.