Police/Fire Schools

Hall High School Students Lead West Hartford Fire Department Through American Sign Language Instruction

ASL students from Hall High School became teachers on Wednesday, giving lessons to members of the West Hartford Fire Department. PHoto credit: Bridget Bronsdon

On Wednesday afternoon, West Hartford Fire Station No. 2 welcomed Hall High School’s American Sign Language students to lead in ASL coaching. 

Hall High School students and the WHFD breaking into groups to review ASL signs. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

By Bridget Bronsdon

Mastering American Sign Language isn’t just about learning a language, it has the anchoring power of bringing together communities. That very philosophy of community was heartily demonstrated this past Wednesday as a cavalry of Hall High School students were welcomed into West Hartford’s fire station No. 2 to lead in American Sign Language (ASL) instruction. 

Eleven ASL students from Hall High School, accompanied by their teacher Kae Volpintesta and deaf liaison Lou Volpintesta, brought a new perspective to the station as firefighters took on the role of students for the day through the instruction of American Sign Language. 

West Hartford firefighters with some of their ASL teachers, who are students at Hall High School. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as firefighter/paramedic and Community Service Officer Andrew Eccles first led the students through a private tour of the station in which the students became acquainted with the station and the firefighters’ duties. Students looked on as Eccles briefly walked them through the equipment, vehicles, and tools in the station.

From there, deaf liaison Lou Volpintesta went on to explain to the firefighters some of the obstacles the deaf and hard-of-hearing community has previously faced with first responders, especially in cases of emergencies. Volpintesta expressed the language barriers and communication obstacles that the deaf community and first responders may face when met with high-stakes or emergency situations and noted that a “lack of being able to hear verbal commands” can lead to fear from deaf individuals when in high-stakes situations.

“The deaf community likes to form strong relationships with the fire, EMT, first responders, ambulance, and understanding and having communication if such a thing happens,” Volpintesta stated. 

Following insight from Lou Volpintesta, the students took charge and broke off into small groups with the firefighters to teach a variety of critical signs that can be helpful in emergency scenarios.

Handout created for firefighters by Hall High School ASL students. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

“I really hope that the first responders, if they had any sort of wariness, would be a little more comfortable,” Kae Volpintesta said. The students created a laminated handout featuring various signs such as numbers, letters, and a few key terms. Her hope was for the first responders to keep the handouts in their vehicle so that they can both review the signs and have the tool in case of an emergency.

Handout created for firefighters by Hall High School ASL students. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

Kae Volpintesta, who is the Hall High School American Sign Language teacher, expressed that while she initially brought the idea of engaging with the community to her classes, the students were completely on board and eagerly took charge of the activity. Volpintesta was all smiles as she spoke with the utmost pride in her students. “They get no credit for this, there’s no extra credit, this is completely voluntary on their part so they put together the materials, we decided what they wanted to teach … so it’s really an opportunity for them to authentically put their hands in the air and use the language that they’ve really learned basically in the classroom.”

A beaming Volpintesta was elated with pride for her students who were using the skills they’ve been learning in the classroom since September to positively impact the greater West Hartford area. It was a triumphant day for Volpintesta to see the positive ripples her students were making in the community.

The Hall High School instructor enthusiastically praised the team effort of her students, a true testament to the collaborative nature of the team. “We wanted to make a handout that was simple enough for the first responders to use and so they negotiated. I had input, they all had input.” 

West Hartford Fire Station No.2 welcomed ASL students from Hall High School. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

Hall High School student instructing WHFD first responder through ASL signs. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

Hall High School students stepping into teaching roles to guide ASL instruction. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

With a full heart, Volpintesta stated her hopes for the students in the wake of the day’s events. “I hope that the students understand that within their community they are also playing a role as ambassadors for this language and this culture, so it’s not something they just learned in a vacuum, it’s something that can reverberate further than the four walls.” As for the officers, “I really hope that the first responders, if they had any sort of wariness, would be a little more comfortable.” 

On the receiving end of the activity, the firefighters indicated how learning ASL can be useful in the field. Firefighter and paramedic Xavier Harrell stated that “Ultimately it’s going to benefit the community as a whole because we can run into someone anywhere in the town that might communicate via ASL and can help us provide the highest level of care possible in the timeliest manner.” 

Deaf Liaison, Lou Volpintesta, sharing signs with members of the West Hartford Fire Department. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

Deputy Chief John Sokolowski attested to the bridge that this activity provides in uniting the diverse communities of West Hartford. Sokolowski vouched that the student’s ASL instruction “keeps us in contact with the community, understanding what folks do at the High Schools.” 

The 11 American Sign Language students from Hall High School include Alyssa Ferreira, Martha Sauer, J. Santiago, Talya Berger, H’elena St. Arromand, Sylvia Cosin, Maria Bailey, Valerie Auwarter, Jenna Beaudoin, Madison Vargas, and George Verner. 

As the activity wrapped up, it proved to be an enriching experience for all as the students took on leadership roles to provide beneficial skills and new language comprehension to our first responders.

Firefighters quizzing their ASL knowledge during Hall High School student instruction. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

Hall High School ASL students guiding the WHFD through ASL instruction. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

Members of the WHFD sharing smiles as they learn new signs. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

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Bridget Bronsdon

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