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American Sign Language at Red Hook High School

Dennis Smith, American Sign Language teacher, brings more than 25 years of teaching experience Red Hook. He began teaching ASL at Red Hook High School in September 2018. “It’s been a short time since I’ve started,” said Mr. Smith “but I am thoroughly enjoying this opportunity to work with such a wonderful community of people.”

Red Hook High School is one of the only schools in Dutchess County to offer a four-year sequence of American Sign Language. The primary focus of the courses is to develop receptive and expressive competency when conversing with native users of ASL, while also developing an awareness and appreciation for the features defining deaf culture as a linguistic and cultural minority.

Mr. Smith has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Elementary Education, a master’s degree in Deaf Education, and additional training as an ASL Specialist. He has taught ASL at colleges, in K-12 classrooms and worked as an elementary classroom teacher for deaf students. “I was passionate about being a role model for deaf children” said Mr. Smith, “Additionally, I wanted to educate the world about American Sign Language, deaf culture and our way of living.”

The first course at RHHS covers basic vocabulary, structure, syntax, and grammar. Students focus on mastering the basics of fingerspelling, numbers, colors, facial grammar and sentences structure; and also learn conversational/cultural behaviors necessary to hold a conversation with deaf/hard-of-hearing native users of the language. “The students are great,” said Mr. Smith, “they are respectful and have such enthusiasm to learn ASL.”

Each of the following courses build on these skills, challenging students to develop greater fluency and the ability to converse, express abstract concepts and translate text to sign.

“Prior to taking my class, most students know very little about deaf culture and the deaf community.” Mr. Smith explains, “This class can obviously guide students towards careers that include direct communication with deaf people, teachers of the deaf, ASL interpreters, but the knowledge of ASL is beneficial at any workplace.”