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Westwood Students Lost In Translation Without American Sign Language

Haley and Linda Andresen share the love.
Haley and Linda Andresen share the love. Photo Credit: Linda Andresen
Melissa Rissetto shows love for American Sign Language in Westwood schools.
Melissa Rissetto shows love for American Sign Language in Westwood schools. Photo Credit: Melissa Rissetto

WESTWOOD, N.J. — What Melissa Rissetto saw last year was two men who appeared to be hard of hearing struggling to communicate with a sales associate at Paramus Park Mall.

Rissetto, then a Westwood junior, had to think fast. Applying what she’d learned in Jennifer Kang’s American Sign Language class, Rissetto began translating.

Transaction completed.

Situations like this might not be possible anymore for Westwood students, now that the district said it will be discontinuing American Sign Language as a World Language option next year.

“Finding out about this was one of the worst things that could possibly happen,” Rissetto told Daily Voice. “My whole class sat together and cried."

The decision was made earlier this month in part because the district was unable to find a qualified pool of state certified ASL teachers, Schools Supt. Ray Gonzalez told Daily Voice.

ASL is currently available for students in grades 6-12, but with only Kang teaching, the language is only offered in the middle school and two levels at the high school.

“We are all disappointed [about it],” said Gonzalez, noting that ASL II will be available online via Pearson Education to incoming freshmen who took ASL I as eighth graders. The rest will have Spanish, French or Italian to choose from.

“It is a popular class that is taught by a wonderful teacher,” he said. “However, the decision was made in consideration of multiple variables in order to best prepare our students for the college application process."

The decision will directly affect freshman Haley Andresen, who is hard of hearing. So is her mother, Linda, and brother, Dylan.

“ASL has always made me feel better,” said Andresen, who hopes to pursue a college education in sign language. “It’s just easier for me sometimes. I have trouble in school hearing but with sign I don’t have to worry about that."

Three months ago, Linda Andresen received a new pair of hearing aids thanks to donations from a GoFundMe page.

“ASL not only teaches the kids a new language, culture and way of thinking, but it also teaches them compassion,” the elder Andresen said.

“It is a language into a world they will never fully understand," she said, "but through the class have an amazing glimpse at."

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