It’s a sign, MVRHS

MVRHS will be offering virtual American Sign Language courses this school year. — MV TIMES

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) will offer its students a virtual American Sign Language (ASL) course this school year. 

“We are contracting with the American School for the Deaf and Bristol Community College to provide instruction to students,” MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy told The Times. “It will be live, but remote. All [classes] are taught by deaf instructors.” 

To Dingledy’s knowledge, this is the first ASL course the school has offered.

According to a letter sent out to parents and students, the classes will take place during the regularly scheduled school day. Twice a week, students will participate in live Zoom classes with Melly Serrano, the sign language teacher, and “complete independent work assigned and submitted on the online platform.” Depending on the class week’s rotation, students will “complete and submit asynchronous work on the learning platform” once a week. To ensure the class goes smoothly, a classroom monitor will be present to make sure students can log in and stay on task. When necessary, an interpreter will be available, and students can use the chat function for questions. Serrano will be the main person the students interact with in the class. She will also be available to provide students extra help or practice throughout the week, and provide updates on students’ progress. 

Martha’s Vineyard has had a connection with sign language, particularly in Chilmark, since the 1600s, when immigrants from Kent County, England, settled on the Cape and Islands. The first known deaf person on Martha’s Vineyard was Jonathan Lambert, who settled on the Island with his family in 1694. He used a form of regional sign language from Kent that evolved into Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language, which became an important form of communication as the deaf community grew on the Island. More recently, Islander Lynn Thorp has been working to spread the usage and understanding of sign language and the New England Deaf Disc Golf held its 20th annual Deaf Island tournament at Edgartown’s Riverhead Field Disc Golf Course in July. 

“I am absolutely delighted out of mind,” Thorp said. “At one point in the 1800s, almost the whole Island signed.”

Thorpe said sign language can be used to “bridge the many gaps” on the Island, such as communicating with people who are hard of hearing, or have speaking disabilities. 

“I am excited. I think it’s a great opportunity,” Dingledy said. She added she hopes students can learn about the Island’s history with sign language. 

There is already a waitlist of students “eager to sign up” for the class. The letter asks students who are signed up but feel that “the online learning structure is not a good fit” to contact John Fiorito, MVRHS director of guidance and counseling, to open up space for someone on the waitlist.