Missouri 4-H'ers flock to new ASL project

Online program teaches students the basics of ASL — opening paths to connect with those with hearing loss.

July 28, 2021

Aynsley Harmon, a 12-year-old from Kahoka, Missouri, wanted to be able to talk with a deaf relative she sees at family reunions, so she did what any resourceful 4-H’er does: She looked for a project to help her accomplish her goal.

With a lot of support and collaboration along the way, her determination resulted in a statewide Missouri 4-H project that highlights the best features of university extension and engagement. The project received support from the MU Hearing Clinic, the MU Disability Center and DeafLEAD, a national nonprofit advocacy and services center based in Columbia.

Missouri 4-H piloted the American Sign Language project this spring for youths in sixth grade and up. Aynsley and the 11 other members of the inaugural online class learned to sign the alphabet, do greetings and introductions, share their feelings, introduce family members and answer basic questions. Their final assignment? Reciting the 4-H pledge in ASL.

Two more six-week sessions are already filled, and there is a growing waiting list of dozens of youths from across Missouri.

“I know how frustrated I get when nobody listens to me,” Harmon said. “I thought about what it would be like to feel that way all the time and not have people understand what I was saying. I think you would feel really alone in the world, and I don’t want anyone to experience that.”

Harmon said one of the best parts of the ASL project — besides looking forward to more in-depth conversations with her relative — has been realizing so many peers have a similar interest.

“It’s so cool and amazing to realize that there are other people around the whole state like me who want to learn how to do this, too,” she said. “And now we have the chance.”

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