A Sign of Things to Come

Staten Island Academy is highly regarded for its progressive and unique curriculum. Striving to teach subjects that are often considered out of the mainstream, yet an equally important part of a child’s education, the expansion of the ASL (American Sign Language) program in the Lower School reflects a desire to be inclusive and the development of a wider range of learning.

While some people approach ASL as an interesting challenge, others must incorporate it in their daily life. Mrs. Rifi, Kindergarten teacher, ASL teacher and parent of three SIA students, was born into a family with two deaf parents. Sign language was her first language. She believes that teaching children ASL as young as three or four years old “is very beneficial to them, helping them express themselves in different ways.” She tells her young students that instead of acting out, to use sign language to communicate, “I am mad.” Another benefit to teaching children ASL at a young age is helping them speak out when they are scared to do so verbally.

Learning ASL – even at a beginner level – enables students to develop the skills to communicate with people who do not use spoken word, and to reflect on one’s own life. Mrs. Rifi’s efforts, and the success of the program altogether, have prompted the hiring of a full-time ASL teacher, Aurelia Casey. Now taught throughout the Lower School, young students are able to connect with those that they otherwise would not be able to. Through this more interactive approach to learning, lower school students can take the knowledge they have accumulated and apply it outside of the classroom, communicate with others in a new way, and laugh while doing it!

Olivia D. ’22 and Olivia L. ’21