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Student eager to teach students American Sign Language in new club

Farmington High School sophomore Shivali Choudhury leads the new, popular American Sign Language Club that may become a new class offering under the foreign language department. Kara Hildreth / Contributor1 / 2
Shivali Choudhury uses this microphone in schoo. She may ask a teacher to wear it so she can hear lectures along with a sign language interpreter who translates classroom subjects to her. Kara Hildreth / Contributor2 / 2

FARMINGTON — Sophomore Shivali Choudhury is empowering students at Farmington High School to learn American Sign Language.

Choudhury, 15, wishes to broaden students' ability to communicate with the deaf.

This was the genesis of her founding the American Sign Language Club.

The club meets weekly on Monday mornings and has become popular with students eager to learn ASL, the alphabet, and how to properly sign words and phrases.

For years, she has witnessed how people have been curious about her communicating using sign language. She has been learning the practice since kindergarten.

Today she can visit with friends and teachers by talking and signing or a combination of both modes of communication.

"People have been asking me questions about sign language and wanting to know more about sign language, so I thought it would be a great idea to start ASL Club," Choudhury said. "People, in general, want to know more about sign language and the deaf culture, so that way if you meet a deaf person later in life, they will know how to interact with them."

Choudhury was born deaf in both ears and today has hearing aids and cochlear implants that aid with her hearing. She speaks clearly so a person may not know she is deaf, but she took speech therapy and worked with a speech pathologist to get there.

She explains how she can hear high and low pitches and voices, but with technology devices and her hearing aids, this aids tremendously with communication.

"I can basically hear chattering and background noise but if you stand to one side, I can hear you and the device helps me so I won't have to worry about what people are saying," she said.

During the school day, Caroline Peterson, a sign language interpreter, accompanies her to class and translates her teachers' lectures and classmates' interactions.

Interpreting can become pretty complicated and the two have developed a good system, especially in math, to refer to the classroom board, the lecture and communicate well with the teachers and other students.

"I like teaching other people about my deaf story, the deaf culture and ASL," she said.

Choudhury wears a high-tech microphone FM system around her neck that easily attaches to her cochlear implants and the sound is transmitted from her implant into her brain so she can hear conversations and sounds.

"I can have people wear it or teachers can wear and I can hear them and people are always curious about it," she said.

Surprised and delighted to see the strong attendance who show up at the weekly ASL Club, she said she was only expecting 10 people to show up.

This week more than 50 students were learning the alphabet. In the future, the curriculum may be approved by the Instructional Program Review Committee before it is offered as a class under the umbrella of the Foreign Language Department at the high school.

Setting no limitations for her life, she may pursue a career in the medical field or pediatric medicine.

"I am interested in the medical field because I have a love for helping people out and that is my spark — helping others," Choudhury said.

"I have been working with her for three years and she is so bright, so independent and a great advocate for herself and you don't see that a lot — she is really special and she is a special student," Peterson said.

Sometimes a person who is deaf or who lives with hearing loss may become more isolated, but that is the opposite for Choudhury.

Feedback has all been positive; Choudhury said who has seen how students are eager to learn one sign at a time. "They are telling me it is amazing that I started a club and they are excited to learn sign language.

"We as a deaf community should stand up for ourselves and get other people to be aware of us," she added.

Students who are curious to learn ASL can show up at the ASL Club at 8:20 a.m. on Mondays in the large lecture hall on the first floor under the stairs at Farmington High School.

"I think students should not just stick to one group of people they get to know, but they should get out of their comfort zone and get to know people from different countries, deaf students and deaf or blind students."

Shivali's story

When Shivali Choudhury was born hearing impaired, her parents may not have dreamed she would grow into an independent young woman with a strong voice and an inspiring student leader.

Her mother Ipshita Choudhury shares how her daughter is a strong, confident advocate for herself. Today she is determined to educate others about how to communicate and learn the nonverbal American Sign Language.

"She helps us to help her," her mother said.

Her father Anish explained how his daughter's hearing loss happened after her mother contracted Rubella measles when she was pregnant during the first trimester.

"For us it made no difference, if our child is deaf ... we are fortunate that we have a loving and caring family on both sides — my wife's side and my dad and my mom — they never felt like she had any deficiencies and she was never treated differently," he said. "We were fortunate to get really good medical care. When she was born, she had hearing issues, she had a defect in her heart called PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosus) and her left eye."

As a baby she needed three surgeries — one for eye, one for the heart and one for her ear.

"During the first year of her life, I was in quite the state of denial," Ipshita said.

By the age of 4, Shivali's hearing improved when she obtained hearing aids in both ears.

"Once the doctors had the cochlear implants put in, that made up for the loss of three years and within one year she had caught up with her peers," Ipshita said. "She had a lack of proper hearing and this was a frustrating phase of life when she was not picking stuff up as good and we realized later she was not getting good hearing aids."

The cochlear implants showed to be a miracle in science because within a year Shivali was tackling everything like other preschoolers.

"By 5 years old, she was talking and putting in an interest in reading," Ipshita said.

Bragging about his daughter's strong perseverance in life, this quality has transferred into her academics as she is an honors student who has become a mathematician.

"She is really good at math," Anish said. "Whatever she has to do, she will give it more than 100 percent," her father added.

Her parents are filled with pride that Shivali is not just a great academic scholar who loves math, but that she is reaching out to teach others how to communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing.

"Today takes the initiative and makes me so proud because she has come up with this entirely on her own and it was her idea and she decided on how to go about it," Ipshita said.