Spreading awareness for sign language

Since he was a student going through the deaf education program at W.W. Samuell High School, Bobby White has known he wanted to return to Dallas ISD as a teacher to provide high-quality services for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Now, with 20 years of teaching experience and 10 years serving the district, White is bringing awareness to the importance of sign language and other resources in honor of the International Day of Sign Languages in September and beyond. 

As a deaf education teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School, White said one of his favorite parts of being an educator is being a “sounding board” for his students.

“One of the biggest issues related to sign language is that many of our deaf students’ families do not know how to sign with them,” White said. “Nowadays we have technology where they are able to communicate with their families, but they do not have that one-on-one direct language access. So when these kids arrive at school, they are finally able to meet someone who signs with them, someone they can communicate with, and you can see in the mornings that they’re just excited to be here because they’re able to sign and communicate and talk.” 

White recalls working with a middle school student who was grieving the loss of his mother. The student struggled so much that White said he “almost did not get promoted to high school.” But the student did move forward and enrolled in some of White’s classes. Seeing that the student needed additional encouragement, White began having breakfast and lunch with the student to provide academic assistance and prompted him to get involved in clubs on campus.

The student joined the wrestling team, and White worked with the student, his coaches, and his interpreters over the next four years. He watched the student become a champion on the wrestling team, take on leadership roles, and ultimately walk across the graduation stage in 2019.

“Just recently he sent me an invitation to attend the christening for his first son, so I was extremely excited about that,” White said. “I think the biggest success story for me is working with these students, providing them with communication and access, and giving them the opportunity to be a kid and to be successful.”

Dallas ISD’s deaf education program supports these students by providing them with interpreters in the classroom as well as at after-school activities. The Benefits Department has partnered with organizations like the Deaf Action Center to expand the number of interpreters available, while the Dallas Regional Day School Program for the Deaf delivers additional support to over 600 students across the district. Additionally, Translation Services provides ASL interpretation at meetings to help educators and parents communicate and create more opportunities for students. 

Ultimately, the work is collective, and White said he hopes awareness about the importance of sign language and deaf education will continue to spread.

“Our deaf students need communication,” he said. “Especially at our campuses with deaf students, be mindful and aware. It would be so awesome if team members could learn something as simple as “good morning” or “hello” in sign language. They are simple signs you can learn online that will put a smile on a student’s face.”

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