An American Sign Language (ASL) course is being taught at Shippensburg University this semester for the first time.
The course is being taught by teacher education professor Don Philpot. He has taught for seven years, and mostly teaches courses related to literacy — specifically reading, writing and English language courses.
This is the first time he has taught ASL at SU, but he has taught it informally to various people for more than 40 years.
He first learned ASL when he was 16 years old, and was inspired to learn after his first encounter with a deaf person.
From there, he created opportunities to be involved in the deaf community by going to functions and watching people sign. He learned everything he knew from books and became fluent with his friends in two years.
“Even if out of an hour conversation I picked out 20 signs and was able to just be a friend and have a friendship, it was enough for me,” Philpot said.
In the past he was hired as an interpreter tutor and taught a group of children for six years. Philpot used ASL to interpret, teach and help the students.
“They were hearing students, but I taught them because I was hired as an interpreter tutor for a deaf child that was part of the class,” Philpot said. “In order for her to feel welcomed and included, it helped that her peers could sign.”
This even included interpreting assemblies for the one deaf child.
The idea of the ASL course taught at SU came from a conversation Philpot had in passing. He briefly mentioned it in a conversation, and then brought the idea up to professor of global languages José Ricardo-Osorio.
“I reached out to him and we just started the whole process,” he said.
Philpot hopes that the course continues to be offered, and that in the future an ASL minor will be offered. There is currently only a concentration in ASL as part of the disability studies minor.
Because the first section of the course filled up so quickly, an additional section of the course was offered.
“Students are very pleased to be in the class. I’d have to say I’ve never seen such attentive students,” Philpot said.
He has noticed that many of his students are determined to learn ASL. He was also surprised how much preparation it takes to teach the course. The class requires at least six hours a week to prepare.
“I love it though because I teach what I’m excited about.”