SKHS sign-language course a career and a labor of love

The fingers move in rapid formation, each motion conveying a different word.

At South Kitsap High School, there is an alternative for students to fulfill the two years of foreign language that are required to attend many universities.

It is American Sign Language.

But unlike some who elect to take a language for collegiate purposes, many students in the third-year ASL class view it as a career opportunity.

One of the instructors, Lori Moriarity, worked as an interpreter for 10 years before she was hired in 2007 at South.

Moriarity said a certified interpreter can earn $45 to $65 per hour, but work usually is not full time. But even the low end of that scale at 20 hours a week computes to $46,800 per year.

“It’s great money and I get to do something I love,” said senior Kendra Miller, who hopes to become a performing-arts interpreter after completing her associate degree in sign language at Seattle Central Community College.

Combining sign language with their passion for another career was a common goal for the seniors in the class. Antonia Louie wants to work as an interpreter for children, while Brandi Oglesby hopes uses her skills in a medical field.

“I’ve done anatomy classes and pretty much anything with the body,” she said.

Ashlee Jackson has a smiliar focus, except that it has come through business law. She wants to become an attorney, but feels sign language might differentiate her in a crowded field.

“I’ve always wanted to become an attorney,” she said. “My mom says I’m really good at arguing.”

For others, the class serves a practical daily purpose. Haley Hill is not hearing impaired, but her mother is deaf in one ear.

“If we’re at a restaurant and there’s music playing, it can be really hard for her to hear,” she said.

That is not an issue in the classroom. Even in ASL 1 — the beginning level — speaking is discouraged. One assignment in Moriarity’s class Friday featured Mr. Potato Head. Students worked in pairs with one signing to another student what part, such as glasses or a mustache, to add to the toy. That student then had relay the information to Moriarity. The cycle continued until the famous potato was completed.

The project was a deviation from the normal classroom routine. In addition to learning sign language and some of its historical implications — the football huddle was invented at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C., by quarterback Paul Hubbard in 1892 — facial expressions also play a significant role in communication. A person can connect their hands in form and bloat their cheeks to convey a circle.

“It’s a huge part of the language,” said Moriarity, referring to facial expressions. “It’s part of the grammar and emotion.”

Master those skills and Moriarity, who worked as a research biologist before becoming an interpreter, said there likely will be a job waiting.

“It’s a great profession and there’s a great need for it,” she said. “Deaf people are going to show up in any place.”