WSD’s National Honor Society Sponsored a Community Service Project:
ASL Emergency Signs for the Delavan Police and Fire Departments

WSD Students pose for a group picture with the Delavan Police and Fire Departments after learning and practicing ASL.

TUESDAY NOVEMBER 12, 2019 The National Honor Society’s (NHS) Wisconsin School for the Deaf (WSD) Chapter was very pleased to host a community service project sponsored by the school’s chapter members, the Delavan Police Department, and the Delavan Fire Department. The focus for this activity was to provide a language learning experience for the officers and firefighters, which will equip them with some knowledge and skill when working with the Deaf community at large. Several of the WSD NHS members have parents or relatives who work as police officers, firefighters, or EMTs throughout the state of Wisconsin. And, because the Wisconsin School for the Deaf has been located in the heart in Delavan for 167 years and counting, Walworth County is home to a large population of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. These factors sparked a desire to reach out and make a connection between the officers, firefighters, and the Deaf community.

WSD’s Principal, Mr. Brian Lievens has a strong belief in the impact that community service projects like these can make. In addition to requiring 32 hours of community service hours prior to graduation for all WSD students, NHS has its own community service requirements to meet in order to remain an active chapter. Mr. Lievens encourages WSD’s NHS members to get involved in their communities as much as possible, “I remembered how important it was for me to participate in community service projects when I was in high school, as they helped me to see outside of myself. I look forward to the results of the community service projects our NHS members will be involved with.”

This was one event that was sure to inspire learning and growth.

Delavan Police Department participants practicing the sign for “License.”

WSD students prepared for this event by gathering lists of words and sentences commonly used in the day to day work of area police officers and firefighters. From that, students created slides with pictures or short video clips of signs from said list in American Sign Language (ASL).

The classroom filled as the start time approached. Participants included seven Delavan police officers, the Delavan Fire Chief, the Delavan Fire Inspector, five WSD NHS members, three WSD Interpreters, two staff photographers, one adult staff volunteer, WSD’s Principal, and the WSD NHS Advisor. Once everyone settled in and introduced themselves, they were promptly divided up into two classrooms, separating the firefighters from the police officers, in order to focus their learning on words/sentences specific to their job duties.

The event began with a warm up activity where participants used gestures to act out two scenarios without using any signs, spoken language, or interpreters. This activity encouraged participants to begin practicing and internalizing the importance of body language, facial expressions, and gestures, which are strong foundational skills important for signers and non-signers alike who wish to communicate with individuals who use ASL.

Delavan Fire Department practicing the ASL sign for “Hurt.”

The warm up activity transitioned into a classroom session, where WSD students used their ASL images, videos, and Slides presentation to teach participants the ASL signs for key vocabulary and phrases, and invited participants to provide other words or phrases they wanted to learn. Officers were then tested on this vocabulary by being shown a sign and writing down the English word for that sign on a mini white board, competing to see how many they could get correct. Participants continued practicing the signs, then role played using the same scenarios from the warm up activity, but this time, using ASL signs and phrases instead of gestures. During role play activities, some students asked that interpreters not relay any information so that they (students and participants) could truly see and feel what naturally happens during a routine traffic stop. Participants reflected on the comparison of communication and understandability with gestures vs ASL signs, and learned that when faced with a situation where they do not know the sign, basic concepts can often be communicated using gestures.

Students gave the participants a brownie break before joining both the firefighter and police departments for a vocabulary war. Before starting the activity, a review session was conducted, then the participants were divided into two teams. Common terms from each department were used to test both their ASL expressive skills (ability to sign the vocabulary/phrases) and receptive skills (ability to understand signed words or phrases in ASL). Competition was rowdy, fun, and fierce.

After the participants left, the students were eager to have a debriefing session, where they created a list of over 20 ideas for future events involving officers, firefighters, EMTs, and WSD students.

Fire Inspector Jennifer O’Neill practices the sign for “Agree.”

WSD’s NHS would like to greatly thank Lt. James Berlin, Lt. David Markley, and Chief Jim Hansen of the Delavan Police Department and Fire Inspector Jen O’Neill of the Delavan Fire Department for coordinating this event within their departments in order for officers/fire staff to be able to attend the training. We would also like to extend a big thank you to the officers and fire personnel who participated in the event. It was a fun and thrilling experience for the students to work with the officers and see them in a unique light and setting. Students felt empowered through this experience, realizing they have a skill and a language to share with others, and that when officers know just a little bit more, the impact on positive relationships with the Deaf community can be greatly enhanced. Everyone had a great time learning and knowing that this knowledge has the opportunity to touch many lives.

WSD NHS Advisor, Rebecca Epple is thrilled to see the enthusiasm and energy this project has brought to her members. “This project is very dear to several of our members as they have family working in the services fields of police, fire, and EMTs. This also impacts themselves, their Deaf friends and the Deaf Community at large. They are thrilled to be able to make an enormous impact. Their work is not done yet as they plan to host more events, create training videos and provide officers with pocket guides to sign language.”

NHS is the nation’s oldest and best-known student recognition program and was founded in 1921 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

The Wisconsin School for the Deaf is a residential school for students ages 3-21 who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deafblind from throughout the state of Wisconsin. WSD is a program under the Wisconsin Educational Services Program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which also includes the Outreach Services program, and our Statewide Deafblind grant project (WDBTAP). WESP-DHH operates under the direction of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, age, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation or physical, mental, emotional, or learning disability.