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Photo of Jizelle Dancel and Christian Estrella, ASL Club founders.

NHS Introduces New Club Engaging Student in American Sign Language

NHS freshmen, Christian Estrella and Jizelle Dancel have been observing the lack of representation regarding the deaf community for a long time. They now set out to make change. While just halfway through their first year in high school, the friends have petitioned and begun, the first-ever American Sign Language club at NHS. 


The National Communication Service for the Deaf estimated that one million people utilize American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary form of communication. While considered an official language in the United States, ASL is not widely taught or represented in American schools. 


Dancel and Estrella describe ASL as “a visual, non-verbal language that is used by deaf [and] hearing impaired communities based on physical hand movements and facial expressions.” 


While having no first-hand connection to the deaf community themselves, Dancel and Estrella attest to the fact that they both have experiences students make ableist remarks towards the deaf community in school. Their frustrations towards the lack of understanding by their classmates inspired them to begin learning the language and spreading awareness. 


“We were eighth graders in May when Christian happened to look to see what clubs he would be interested in freshman year. Christian checked the club list a few times and saw that there was no ASL club, which was something we wanted to learn more about,” Dancel said when asked about how the idea to petition for the club came to be. 


Dancel and Estrella reached out to their English teacher, who helped them connect with the now club advisor, Ms. Guariglia. Once in high school and in conversation with their advisor, the two spent months working on their petition campaign, receiving 75 student signatures. 


The current attempt by Estrella and Dancel is not the first time Nutley schools have had the opportunity to educate students in American Sign Language. In 2013, the World Language Department released a survey to all students from grade 5-10 asking for opinion on an additional language option. 


NHS Vice Principal, Joseph Materia, was Coordinator of World Languages at the time and reviewed the 2013 survey data. "ASL was one of the top choices,"he said. 


At the time however, Spanish at the elementary levels was deemed a higher priority and was implemented in the district.


However, on January 5, 2021 the entire NHS student body received an email from Principal Williams announcing the addition of ASL club.


“Having a space for ASL will impact the [NHS] community by allowing more people to learn about the lifestyle of people who are hearing impaired. It will make it easier for those who are hearing impaired if [the general public] simply learn to communicate. The only thing disconnecting hearing and hearing impaired people is the language barrier,” Dancel and Estrella said. 


The club plans to meet twice a month. Meetings will be alternated between members focusing on deaf culture and lifestyle in addition learning ASL. Students should look out for more information on how to join this club in the coming weeks.