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Sign Language Immersion Weekend Gives Voice to Deaf Culture

The American Sign Language Program Summer Immersion Weekend brought 54 students together July 14-16 to participate in activities conducted entirely in ASL without voiced English at Santa Barbara City College.

The students engaged in class time, workshops and a treasure hunt throughout the SBCC campus and the city of Santa Barbara.

The immersion weekend was started by Dean Marilynn Spaventa in 2007 and has since been led by associate professor Ignacio Ponce and his team of instructors, Michelle Walsh, Katherine Firkins, Christine Firkins and administrative assistant Elisa Robles.

Ponce said the goal of the event is to mimic a study abroad program where students immerse themselves in the language and culture.

“The impact we have in the community at large is monumental,” he said. “Our off-campus activities serve to expose the community to the language and culture of deaf people.

"The community sees our students communicate in sign language throughout the weekend, and this helps raise awareness and acceptance of the deaf community,” he said.

The ASL Immersion Weekend offers three hybrid class levels. Students complete an online component before the weekend starts. Once they are immersed, they take a workshop taught by independent contractors, and last, they put on a performance.

“We have a variety of activities, including formal class time, a workshop by a guest lecturer, small and large group skits to practice vocabulary and sentence structure learned in class or the workshop,” Ponce said.

“We also have a very popular treasure hunt in downtown Santa Barbara. The treasure hunt trivia questions and clues include information related to deaf culture and history. On Saturday evening, we have a comedy performance and it's open to the public,” he said.

Several local businesses support the ASL Immersion Weekend and participate in the treasure hunt, including Chipotle, Costco, Starbucks, Trader Joe's, Lazy Acres and the Fund for Santa Barbara.

Ponce said a number of local deaf community members participate in the activities and attend the event to interact with SBCC students.

“As far as the local deaf community, there has always been a sense of pride to see that their language, culture and history are being taught at the local college,” he said.

— Luz Reyes-Martin for SBCC.

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