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ASL teachings in Olathe Public Schools grow beyond language use

ASL teachings in Olathe Public Schools grow beyond language use
Posted at 6:29 AM, Oct 13, 2023

OLATHE, Kan. — Recently, there has been a push in the local deaf community to increase the use of American Sign Language beyond the deaf and hard of hearing.

At Olathe Public Schools, high schoolers have the opportunity to take ASL courses. Jared Mnich teaches ASL at Olathe Northwest High School. Students start by learning the alphabet and move up to basic conversation skills. But Mnich wants the lesson to go beyond the language.

“Ensure that these kids after high school understand not just basic communications skills with the deaf community as well as the needs, trials, tribulations and successes, most importantly the successes of the deaf community,” said Jared Mnich. “A community that often goes overlooked, undermined and is misrepresented across all forms of media.”

At Olathe West High School, there is another Mr. Mnich. Colby Mnich also teaches ASL. He and Jared are cousins, and also CODAs — Children of Deaf Adults.

He consulted his family and friends in the deaf community before taking a position as an ASL instructor so as to not “step on any toes,” since he can hear.

Growing up in the deaf community as a hearing child Colby said showed him how impactful it can be when others know ASL.

“I always like hearing the stories of, ‘Hey, somebody deaf walked into my job and I was able to communicate with them and able to use my signs,’” said Colby Mnich. “It is always nice when a deaf person walks in and they don’t have to resort to other communication strategies because the hearing person is unable to do that.”

ASL is taught at all five high schools in the school district. The local deaf community would like to grow toward a ‘shared-signing community' where both the deaf and hearing know and use ASL. Chriz Dally with the Museum of Deaf Arts, History and Culture said the use of ASL makes it not only easier to maybe order at a restaurant but is also allows the two communities to communicate and connect.

“The best way to learn actually is to interact with Deaf people. Once you have the basics, interact with the deaf people and you will become fluent just as you would if you were in a Spanish-speaking class,” said Dally.

Colby and Jared push their students to interact with the deaf and use their signing to communicate. Most recently, students attended the ASL for All 5K.

Olathe has a large deaf community with the Kansas School for the Deaf and the Museum of Deaf History, Arts and Culture located in town. Data from the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing shows that 24,000 people in the KC Metro are part of the deaf community, one of the largest populations in the country.

If you are interested in learning ASL, KSD has resources on its website.