Last school year, I decided to take American Sign Language (ASL) as a foreign language. I am now in my second year of taking ASL, and it is one of the most fun and rewarding classes I've taken.

I have always been interested in sign language; as a kid I loved to watch people sign to each other, and it looked really cool! When considering which language to take in high school, I wanted to choose one that would be useful for me past my school years. Due to limited options, I searched for classes online, and that is when I found an ASL class through Minnetonka Public Schools (Tonka Online).

By far, my favorite thing about my ASL class is my teacher, Ms. Ivy (or “T-Dubs”). She is one of the best teachers I've ever had. She is so understanding and empathetic. When COVID hit us last spring, she made sure that the class knew that we were cared for and that we could count on her for support.

She is very funny and that makes the class a great time. I could go on and on about her, but I would also like to share some messages directly from her! Since she is deaf, I asked her some questions. Here are her written responses.

What do you wish hearing people knew about the Deaf community?

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I wish that hearing people knew that the Deaf community is such an adhesive community that binds together based on their language, ASL. With that said, the Deaf community is a very diverse community where the different ethnic background is visible. I wish for hearing people to know that we are proud people with one less sense. I want for hearing people to see that we, as a deaf community, have goals, dreams, and desires for success, and that has nothing to do with being “hearing.” Being deaf and the deaf is beautiful.

What do you want to change about the world to make it more accessible?

In a perfect world, all sign language in each country should also be a part of the foreign language requirements. American Sign Language is recognized as a language. What about Mexican Sign Language, German Sign Language, Greece Sign Language, etc.? There should be a full spectrum of human languages designed for deaf people to become available for young citizens to learn. This concept is the whole of possibilities for communication worldwide to become available to everyone regardless of their skin color worldwide.

How does teaching ASL make you feel?

Every time I walk into my classroom or open my laptop to teach online, I have this overwhelming feeling of awesomeness because I am helping with steps by bringing two communities (hearing and deaf) closer together. As a teacher, this job is a rewarding experience to witness two people with their primary languages (English and ASL) communicate regardless of their differences. That’s why I am still a teacher. Smile.

Do you have any experiences that being deaf made better?

Oh, I have experienced many deaf gains! I went scuba diving and was using ASL to communicate with my scuba diving instructor. Hahah. My friend was driving and pulled up beside me and asked me to meet him at the Cubs using sign language while driving (highly not recommended). Last summer, while we went hiking in the deep woods, we used ASL to communicate without creating any sounds to startle any animals. At my grandmama’s house, the electricity went kaput. We were all deaf members in the family -- we can still communicate in the dark using pro-tactile, meaning I put my hands on my family member’s hands and feel their messages. I can go on infinitely more.”

Above all else, this class has taught me the power of empathy. Put yourself into a stranger's shoes, and learn from what you see. You might even be able to speak with your hands!

Makayla Kennedy is a senior at Stewartville High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters, jpieters@postbulletin.com .