Olivia Enyart, left, Sarah Reinecke and Ross Borders are Park City High School students and members of Earios, a support group for students who are deaf or
Olivia Enyart, left, Sarah Reinecke and Ross Borders are Park City High School students and members of Earios, a support group for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. They campaigned successfully to bring an American Sign Language class back to the high school. Christopher Reeves/Park Record.
Ross Borders is a junior and Olivia Enyart and Sarah Reinecke are sophomores at Park City High School, while Avery Mechling is a ninth-grader at Treasure Mountain Junior High School. They are all different ages with different ambitions, but their common thread is that they are all members of the Earios, a club for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

They may only be teenagers, but together, with the help of the Utah School for the Deaf outreach teacher Nancy Haga, they spearheaded a campaign to bring back an American Sign Language class at the high school.

"I see a lot of people use sign language in special education, and I think it's a good idea to bring the class back to make it easier to communicate with people with disabilities or who are deaf or hard of hearing," Borders said. "Also, the people that register for [the class] can take it as a language credit."

Haga said the students researched the benefits of learning American Sign Language and found that it is easier for people with disabilities to learn than French, Spanish or Chinese. Also, teaching young children to sign before they learn how to speak English makes it easier for them to learn, and knowing sign language can benefit greatly when applying for jobs.

Haga received a master's degree in deaf education from the University of Virginia and accepted the position at the Utah School for the Deaf four years ago. That is when she first began working with Borders, Enyart and Reinecke.

"The kids are my pride and joy," she said. "I am so proud of them that they were able to do spearhead something like this, which I think has empowered them as leaders."

PCHS assistant principal Lyndsay Anderson said Haga and the students approached her last year with the idea to bring the class back. The school offered the class several years ago but had to cancel it when the teacher decided not to pursue the endorsement needed to keep teaching the class. She told the group they needed at least 60 people to register in order to have two sections.

The students created a petition for their peers to sign if they would take a sign language class instead of other foreign languages, if the class was available. They received many signatures, and 61 of those students followed through and registered to take the class at the high school next year.

"These kids did it all themselves; they created the petitions, they did the research to present to administration and they got this all done," Anderson said. "Most of these kids are sophomores, so they came into their high school careers ready to make a difference. That's a wonderful thing."

Borders, Enyart and Reinecke want to continue making a difference in the deaf community when they graduate. Borders wants to go to the police academy to "express to people who are hard of hearing that they can do anything they dream of," while Reinecke and Enyart are interested in becoming teachers for the deaf and hard of hearing.

"People think only 'normal' people without disabilities can succeed in life," Reinecke said. "That's not true, and I want to help students like me realize that."

PCHS is still looking for someone to teach the class, which Anderson said has been difficult. It is a part-time job, two classes a day every other day, and there are not a lot of people who have the skill to teach the classes.

However, she said they are working with Haga as well as local universities to see if there are any students going through teacher education programs who are willing to teach the class. Anyone who thinks they might be qualified to teach the class can contact Anderson at the high school.

If they are able to find a teacher and the class is successful next school year, she said they will add on an American Sign Language II class the following school year.

"I feel great that we were able to do something for the school and for the people needed the class and want to learn more about deaf culture," Borders said. "Not a lot of people understand what the deaf culture really is, so with this class, they can learn about the one percent of the population who are deaf or hard of hearing."

For more information about the American Sign Language teaching position, contact Park City High School assistant principal Lyndsay Anderson at 435-645-5650 or lyanderson@pcschools.us.