Riverside has many clubs, and a school year amidst a pandemic seems like an unlikely time to start a new one, but a student, Charlotte Gibson, took it upon herself to do just that.

Charlotte Gibson, founder of the Riverside ASL Club

Charlotte started the Riverside ASL club so that students wishing to learn the language would have a safe and welcoming place to do so. “I have always been interested in learning ASL,” said Gibson. “However, I’ve struggled to find people to practice with.” The club has given her the opportunity to connect with people who have similar interests in learning ASL and to develop their skills together.

In their weekly meetings on Teams, the students practice ASL vocabulary as well as discuss aspects of deaf culture and etiquette. As additional learning, they have completed a free ASL course from Gallaudet University, which offers courses entirely in ASL. To make practicing and discussion easier, the students normally split off into groups of three to four people. According to Jannea Pregler, one of the club members, a hearing resource teacher for the school district, Ms. Nicole Peacock was also brought in to speak about her experiences with learning and teaching ASL.

The club, however, is not without its share of challenges. “COVID-19 ” restrictions have made things quite difficult for our club since ASL is a visual language,” said Gibson. Before the club started meeting, people were not able to gather in groups to practice or meet others with the same interest of learning ASL. “I would say the club has still been a success,” she said. She also credits the enthusiasm and dedication of the club’s 32 members and is hopeful that next year they will be able to gather in-person to practice.

According to website Infotel Multimedia, there has been an increase of interest in ASL. A contributing factor is Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry’s sign language interpreter, Nigel Howard, who has a fan club of more than two thousand people and teaches an ASL course at UBC.