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Mancos sign language teacher aims to inspire people of all ages

James Martin has been teaching ASL at Mancos High School for two years now. His classroom is filled with art created by deaf artists. (James Martin/Courtesy Photo)
James Martin began teaching ASL in 2018 and hosted his first ASL coffee social earlier this year

Mancos’ high school American Sign Language teacher hopes to inspire others to learn ASL in the community by hosting coffee socials outside of the classroom where everyone is welcome to participate, learn and make new friends.

James Martin, who was born deaf, is in his second year of teaching the ASL program at Mancos High School full-time after a brief period of teaching ASL at Pueblo Community College.

James Martin. (Mancos High School)

He has an associate degree in special education and a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on education and instructions with a minor in deaf studies. He also achieved her master’s in ASL teaching and began teaching in 2018.

While he said teaching at the high school level is very different from teaching at the collegiate level, he is enjoying seeing students begin to grasp his language.

He teaches two classes, one with 19 students and one with 25 in his ASL 1 course, and will teach ASL 2 in the second semester.

Students are required to fulfill two years of language study to graduate, but Martin said students can fulfill the two-year requirements with one year of ASL, also noting that it is the only language program offered by the high school at this time.

Right now, students are learning the basics of sign language so they can begin trying to communicate with sign.

“Hopefully by the end of the semester, they’ll know the basics to communicate,” Martin said.

Next semester, students will learn sign language through storytelling. Students will learn how to sign children’s books and tell stories, all through sign language.

Martin said one of his favorite parts of her classroom is the artwork he has hung around the room. The classroom features the works of eight different deaf artists.

He also shared that seeing students begin to grasp what they are learning is a highlight of teaching.

“Seeing them begin to sign and communicate and use my language makes it worthwhile,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll have students come up to me and sign to me, ‘Good morning, how are you doing?’”

“It feels good because they know the signs and they are making an attempt to try,” he continued. “That’s what’s important, that they’re trying.”

Martin not only teaches ASL to high school students.

Earlier this year, he started a monthly ASL coffee social where anyone interested in learning sign language and making new friends can come together, drink coffee and spend time together learning.

The first was a social picnic, and 15 to 20 people attended. He is hoping to recruit more people who wish to learn ASL.

“I’m really happy to be teaching ASL,” he said.

The next ASL coffee social will take place Oct. 28, starting between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. at Fahrenheit in Mancos. He is aiming for the November social to be on Nov. 18, but that date and location is still to be determined.

Anyone who is interested in learning sign language is invited to join.

Interested individuals can join the group’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/swcoloradoaslsocialgroup/?mibextid=oMANbw or join by emailing Martin at james.n.martin51@gmail.com.