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Millcreek Journal

Skyline High ALS students offer theater performance for deaf children

Feb 09, 2024 01:17PM ● By Peri Kinder

American Sign Language students at Skyline High perform “Dorothy in Wonderland,” a children’s theater play presented to children from the deaf community. (Granite School District)

American Sign Language students at Skyline High School (3251 East 3760 South) took center stage in January for a unique and inclusive performance geared toward engaging the deaf, deaf-blind and deaf-low vision community.

The ASL 3 Honors students presented “Dorothy in Wonderland,” a children’s theater play that combines the characters of “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Organized by Skyline ASL instructor Jody Tolley, the play is a way to showcase the students’ mastery of ASL while creating a fun environment for children who don’t often get to experience a live performance.

“We have done several plays throughout the years, and it’s been a fun thing,” Tolley said. “We have tried to incorporate something like a children’s theater, which has been really fun because we try to get kids to come.”

This year, along with students from the deaf community, ASL students decided to invite children from the deaf-blind and deaf-low vision community, which meant ASL students had to learn the production in a whole new way. Tolley challenged her ASL 4 Honors students to reconfigure the play so everyone could enjoy the performance.

“My students have not only learned how to perform a play in a second language but also how to make accommodations such as how to run a live-circuit video so those with low vision can have a video held near their eyes to better see the play being signed and how to sign the play one-on-one into the hands of deaf-blind children so they can participate in the play as well,” Tolley said. “I don’t believe any high school has ever done anything like this before.”

For this type of performance, the translators reenact the play for someone who can’t see or hear, using ASL to give them information about who’s on stage and what they’re saying. It’s a more intensive translation than for deaf students.

Unfortunately, because of bad weather, the deaf-blind children couldn’t attend the performance. Tolley said her ASL students were disappointed but were not discouraged.
They had learned new skills and hope to offer future performances to the deaf-blind community. 

Before Tolley started teaching ASL at Skyline, she taught at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind. When she was hired at Skyline, she only had enough students to fill one class every other day. Now she teaches ASL full time to nearly 200 students, with another part-time ASL instructor taking on more classes. 

Tolley said her ASL students will take a lot of lessons away from this experience, including the importance of keeping a good attitude, having effective advertising and enjoying the ride, no matter what happens. 

“The students said they learned so much, and it was really fun,” she said. “They were like: ‘Even when we close our own eyes, we didn’t think we would understand it. But the most amazing thing is that we could close our eyes, and in our mind’s eye, we could see the sign language.’ They said that was the most surprising thing.” λ