Most school districts provide students with an option to take language courses like Spanish, French, or Italian. For East Meadow and Clarke high school students, American Sign Language is an option. And now, they have an opportunity to show off their ASL skills.
This year, the students in the ASL honor societies will host ASL Idol, an event that allows students who study American Sign Language to perform their talents. The event is an annual fundraiser that supports different non-profit organizations for Deaf people. The competition is based on the popular singing competition, “American Idol.”
“I started ASL Idol over 10 years ago as an opportunity for students to get community service hours to satisfy the requirement to get inducted into the National American Sign Language honor society,” said Woodland Middle School ASL teacher Maria Kaminsky.
“What started out as a fun little event, turned into a highly anticipated annual event.”
Kaminsky brought the event with her to the East Meadow School District from West Islip when she became an ASL teacher at Woodland Middle School. The event was initially planned for March of 2020, but the pandemic forced organizers to move it to this March.
Other schools nationwide hold a similar event. Locally, it is being held in the East Meadow High School auditorium on March 23 at 6 p.m. The event is open to the public. Tickets at the door are $7 for general admission and $5 if you have ASL merchandise. Raffles and food will also be sold at the event. All money collected will go directly to the American Society for Deaf Children.
“Each year, the ASL students of the hosting school research and decide on the deserving organization,” Lauren Beygelman, event organizer and ASL Honor Society advisor for East Meadow High, said. “This year, the organization chosen is the American Society for Deaf Children, who believes deaf children are entitled to full language and communication access.”
The event’s performers consist of American Sign Language students from across Long Island from middle school to high school with good academic standing. In the end, there will be a winner.
There are over 25 groups and individuals registered from schools including Commack, Massapequa, Smithtown, Hicksville, and East Meadow high schools, and Woodland Middle School.
They will be performing songs of their choice and judged by four judges — each with a different purpose.
“The students will take songs and make them more expressive than how they would talk normally in ASL,” Mia Senetto, a senior at East Meadow, and an ASL Honor Society member, said. “They’ll add classifiers, which are not real signs, but are hand shapes used in sign language to sort of paint a picture, which makes the performance of the songs much more beautiful for deaf people to understand.”
Two of the judges are deaf, one is an ASL interpreter, and the other is dedicated to judging the rhythm and soul of the performer.
“Two deaf individuals look at their actual interpretation and signing ability,” Beygelman said. “One ASL interpreter judges the students’ ability to accurately portray the lyrics and create a mental picture throughout their performance, and one rhythm and soul judge looks at the students’ ability to maintain the pace and mood of the song.”
Despite being an event for the Deaf community, Shannon Leahy, an ASL Honor Society board member, and senior at East Meadow, thinks the event can benefit many.
“I think this event helps bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing community because anyone can participate and watch this event,” Leahy said. “It’s a big night for people all over Long Island to get to know one another.”
Run exclusively by the ASL Honor Society students from East Meadow and Clarke high schools, they worked in committees to promote, fundraise, and gather donations for raffles.
The ASL Honor Society students will also be acting as hosts and interpreters during the event — they will also help by coordinating performances, selling raffle tickets, and selling tickets at the door.
“I think that [ASL Idol] is a really exciting way to bring both the Deaf and hearing world together with music,” Giselle Mustafich, an ASL Honor Society member, and EMHS senior, said.“I am really grateful to be a part of it.”