Deaf and hearing students learn sign language
Tiny size limits classes, sports and clubs
At The American Sign Language (ASL) and English Secondary School, hearing and deaf students learn alongside one another in classes staffed with professional sign interpreters. The school draws students from all over the city, including Staten Island and Far Rockaway. Roughly 15 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, science lab and a 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 five 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 based on school surveys. The school is safe in part because it is so tiny, said long-time staffer Arelis Forty. “We get information before things get confrontational,” she said.
Students receive 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 via 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 offers physics but not chemistry, 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.
The school has few sports but what it does offer, it does at a high level. The Stunt (co-ed cheerleading) team has won the division B championship and the archery team has also been a regional champion. There is a basketball club and other clubs vary by year but have included knitting, a gamers club and a book club in recent years. Arts classes include creative writing, film, dance and visual art.
Students receive college guidance and take college trips. 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, and Rochester Institute of Technology and SUNY New Paltz, which both have deaf studies programs.
Admissions: The school does an on-site interview according to the high school directory. The secretary said it is helpful to tour the school to get a sense of it but most who apply get in. (Lydie Raschka, interview and web reports, November 2018)
Safety & Vibe
Faculty & Staff
CalculusNot offered in 2019-20
Advanced Foreign LanguageNot offered in 2019-20
AP/IB Arts, English, History or Social Science
AP/IB Math or Science
MusicNot offered in 2019-20
Programs & AdmissionsFrom the 2021 High School Directory
American Sign Language Studies Program
Students partake in a four-year ASL program graduating with a proficiency in American Sign Language. Graduates can expect to obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to work with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities. In addition to learning American Sign Language, students are exposed to the culture and social perspective of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities.
OfferingsFrom the 2021 High School Directory
American Sign Language
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP English Language and Composition, AP Environmental Science, AP Computer Science Principles, AP Statistics, AP Human Geography, AP World History: Modern
Coed PSAL teams
Contact & Location
223 East 23rd Street
Manhattan NY 10010
Trains: to 23rd St; to 3rd Ave; , to 23rd St
Buses: BM1, BM2, BM3, BM4, BxM1, BxM10, BxM11, BxM18, BxM3, BxM4, BxM6, BxM7, BxM8, BxM9, M1, M101, M102, M103, M14A, M14D, M15, M15-SBS, M2, M23-SBS, M3, M34-SBS, M34A-SBS, M55, M9, QM21, X1, X10, X10B, X12, X14, X17, X2, X27, X28, X37, X38, X42, X5, X63, X64, X68, X7, X9
This school shares the building with its Lower School