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Across the United States, only 20% of K-12 students participate in foreign language education. At Berkshire Partners Blue Hill Boys & Girls Club, third grade students have been learning one in their spare time. Led by Performing Arts Coordinator Virvioly Valdez, students attending school remotely at the Club have been learning American Sign Language as a way to avoid confusion while communicating with each other with several different Zoom classes in session at a time.

After Boston Public Schools shifted to a remote learning model, Berkshire Partners Blue Hill Club extended its operating hours into the morning to welcome members to take their virtual classes at the Club with staff supervision. Members were divided into cohorts based on age and the school that they attend. Within each cohort, there could still students from several different schools taking classes at once, and this was creating confusion for everybody.

“At the beginning of remote learning, I was quickly starting to realize that I was having trouble distinguishing when members were trying to speak with me and when they were speaking with their teachers,” explains Valdez. “I really wanted to come up with a way to help members communicate with me more effectively. I didn’t want to bother them while they were in class, but I wanted to make sure I could let them know that I was hearing them and I was helping them.”

Enter American Sign Language. After starting with the basics that were required for essential in-classroom communication, the concepts caught fire in the classroom and Valdez’s cohort was hungry to learn more. During breaks, members would encircle Valdez to practice signing their names. Eventually, they began viewing “How To Learn Sign Language” videos on YouTube on a daily basis.

“After I taught the first three (signs), there was this huge burst of enthusiasm to learn more ASL,” continued Valdez. “And I was all for it!”

As a type of capstone project, Club members have put together a video showcasing their new skills. This video can be viewed here. All background music in the video was recorded and produced in Berkshire Partners Blue Hill Club’s recording studio by the Club’s record label Studio Heat Productions.

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