47 The American Sign Language and English Secondary School

223 EAST 23 STREET
MANHATTAN NY 10010 Map
Phone: (917) 326-6668
Website: Click here
Admissions: Open to deaf students, children of deaf parents, and non deaf students
Wheelchair accessible
unzoned
Principal: Watfa A. Shama
Neighborhood: Gramercy Park
District: 2
Grade range: 09 thru 12
Parent coordinator: DELTA CALDERON

What's special:

Deaf and hearing students learn sign language

The downside:

Below average graduation rate

The InsideStats

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Our review

At The American Sign Language (ASL) and English Secondary School, hearing and deaf students learn alongside each other in classes staffed with professional sign interpreters. The school draws students come from all over the city, including Staten Island and Far Rockaway. Roughly 25 percent of the students are deaf or hard-of-hearing and most others are hearing kids with deaf siblings or parents. The school also attracts hearing students interested in learning sign language.

The school is housed in a 1920s-era building it shares with the American Sign Language and English Lower School, which has a separate administration and teaching staff. The high school’s facilities include large classrooms, a gym and weight room, computer lab, renovated science lab and a cozy library with couches and colorful rugs.

Students enjoy a calm and close-knit environment that embraces deaf culture, which Principal Wafta Shama describes as a culture of communication. “Hand gestures, feet stomping and touching people to get their attention are essential. In ASL it’s not rude to point,”said Shama.

About 25 percent of the teachers are deaf and roughly half of the staff knows sign language. Students and staff are given sign names by their deaf peers. “Only a deaf person can give you a sign name and it’s based on a personal trait,” said Shama whose sign name is three fingers forming a “W” swiped across the forehead. It represents leadership.

Parents and students feel welcome and safe in the school and give high marks to teachers based on their responses to the 2011-12 Learning Environment Survey (LES). Teachers, however, offer a more mixed review on the LES, with at least a third responding that the school does not set high enough standards for student learning or prepares students to achieve goals after graduation. The school’s graduation rate is below the citywide average.

Students have daily instruction in American Sign Language (ASL) and are grouped according to skill level. Teachers encourage students to practice their signing by scheduling “voice off” days where kids are expected to sign in all their classes. Students also hone their skills in the ASL computer lab where they prepare video presentations and record signing exercises for teachers to review.  

All other courses are taught in English with the assistance of sign language interpreters. Class sizes are capped at 18 so students have plenty of open space to communicate with each other. One downside to the school’s size is its limited selection of courses. It does not offer chemistry or physics, and trigonometry is the highest level of math taught. For more advanced instruction, students may take classes at Baruch College and La Guardia Community College.

Elective classes include art, creative writing, drumming, film and food nutrition. African Dance is offered through a program sponsored by the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Students also serve as reading and ASL buddies with students in the lower school. Tenth-graders and advanced 9th-grade students take a course in writing and reading sponsored by Baruch College.

The school fields a PSAL team in boys basketball and offers intra-mural options in basketball, volleyball, track and cross-country. Students can participate in after-school clubs such as knitting, academic bowl, chess, and comic books.

Special education: There are self-contained and ICT (Integrated Collaborative Teaching) classes. The school has classes for deaf students with severe disabilities.

College: Each year some graduates attend Gallaudet University, the only college in the world designed to serve deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Other popular choices include La Guardia Community College which has a sign language interpretation program, SUNY at Stony Brook and Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.

Admissions: Priority to American Sign Language & English Lower School Students and then to students citywide. Admissions is based on an interview, review of a writing sample as well as the applicant’s grades, test scores and attendance. (Laura Zingmond, November 2012)

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