A Beautiful Language: Dual enrollment introduces HS students to deaf culture

by Katie Keszey, Community College of Vermont Grace Brown was in a Starbucks store two years ago when she watched, dismayed, as a barista struggled to help a customer who was deaf. Finally, Grace found a pen and paper and helped the stranger place their order. “I was very frustrated for them,” she said. Before the person left, they signed something to her, which she later discovered meant “thank you.”

The encounter inspired the Burlington High School senior to start learning American Sign Language (ASL). Last spring, she took ASL I as a dual enrollment class offered by CCV at BHS—a free college course that gave her college credit as well as credit toward high school graduation.

As part of the 2013 Flexible Pathways legislation created to help Vermont high school students access college and career training, Dual Enrollment allows Vermont high school juniors and seniors to take up to two free college courses.

It’s part of a broad continuum of opportunities at CCV designed to help middle and high school students start college and prepare for careers, from middle school Access Days to the year-long Early College program.

Brown decided to continue with ASL II this spring, and last fall she served as a peer mentor for ASL I.

“I’ve completely fallen in love with ASL and the deaf culture and I just couldn’t wait until next semester,” she said. “It’s just a beautiful language.” As a mentor last fall, she worked closely with instructor Jacob Veeder. “It’s really fun because not only am I teaching along with Jacob, I’m also learning a lot,” she said. “It’s cool—sometimes Jacob and I will be standing in a hallway signing with each other and people will stand there in awe.”

She explained that Veeder, who is deaf, brought a translator to the first day of class—but just for the first 30 minutes. After that, it was signing only.

Veeder has been a CCV instructor since 2019. In addition to his CCV classes, he also teaches American Sign Language to Nepali students at the Howard Center.

“I find it tremendously fun to see my students grow by learning more in ASL,” he wrote in an email. “I like to conduct activities such as games with my classes. I find that when I do this, students become motivated and engage more in language acquisition…My goal is to always foster growth for my students,” he added.

Burlington High School is one of many middle and high schools across the state that work closely with CCV to provide dual enrollment opportunities for students.

This spring, BHS is also offering sections of Intro to Criminal Justice, Intro to Sociology, and Intro to College and Careers. Dual enrollment classes help students dip their toes into college-level learning, explore potential career opportunities, and reduce the cost barrier of pursuing higher education.

“I think it is great that these students are able to get a head start on their future endeavors,” Veeder shared.

Grace Brown’s experience is a testament to that advantage. She will pursue a four-year degree after graduation from BHS, with plans to double major in ASL interpretation and speech, language, and hearing sciences.

Despite its vast language department, BHS doesn’t otherwise offer ASL.

“If I didn’t take ASL through CCV, I don’t think I would have gone into [it] at all,” she says. “And if I had, it probably wouldn’t be until I got into college, so I’m glad that I kind of got a head start because I’ve learned so much already it will be easier to immerse in the language when I get into college.”