Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A teen helps share music through sign language

This Q&A is with Skylar Sherman, the oldest daughter of one of my best friends, Wendy. Skylar's been a gifted singer since she was a kid. She's learning American Sign Language and this summer, she created a great video that encouraged kids and teens to learn sign language, and enabled people who are deaf to enjoy a beautiful song. We finally got around to connecting about it. 

While I obviously lack objectivity, I'll just say that if more kids and teens were like Skylar and considered ways to include ones who are deaf, blind or physically or intellectually disabled, this world would be a way better place. 


How did you first get involved with sign language?  

The cantor at our congregation, Rodeph Sholom in New York City, has a son who is deaf. This led to a lot more inclusivity of the deaf community. Rodeph started having interpreters at services and events, and my cantor started an ASL choir that  was open for anyone to join. I ended up falling in love with learning to sign songs. I wanted to understand more of what I was signing, and I wanted to communicate directly with the woman who helped the ASL choir interpret lyrics into ASL. I asked my cantor how she learned to sign once she found out her son was deaf, and she sent me to the Sign Language Center. I've been taking classes on the weekends ever since. I have just completed level 6 and I will be starting conversational classes soon.

I know you've been doing some good volunteer work, too. 

One of my favorite activities has been volunteering at New York Deaf Theatre as an usher. I greet people as they enter the theatre, hand out playbills and direct people to their seats, communicating with deaf audience members entirely in ASL. I also worked as a camp counselor at CampedUp for kids ages 3 to 5 who are deaf and hard of hearing, and I volunteer for Shireinu Special Needs Services at the temple. I help create and organize services that are accommodating for kids and adults with special needs. I love sharing something so important with people who otherwise may not have the opportunity to experience it.

How did you first get the idea to do the music video?

I actually was first inspired after my mom showed me a video on your blog of the song A Thousand Years signed by mothers of children with Down syndrome and their kids. It made me cry because it was so beautiful. I showed it to my friend with whom I was learning ASL and we came up with the idea to start an ASL club at my high school and to make an ASL music video. Because LaGuardia is a performing arts high school, we love to share our art with as many people as we can. And I wanted to make art accessible to people who sign. After making that video, I decided that I wanted to bring ASL music to the other theatre community in my life, the camp French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts.

How did you make the video happen?  

This year, I was a Counselor in Training, so I had the opportunity to teach a class at camp. I got a music director, Roy George, to supervise. In addition to being one of my favorite people at camp, Roy also signs, so it was perfect. My pitch for the class, “Sign Language Through Song,” detailed what would we do every day. I said I wanted to teach basic signs to kids in camp and direct them in an ASL music video, so that kids who sign can enjoy the music. I made an announcement in the Dining Hall about the class. The first day, only two kids showed up. The next day there were four. And then people began telling their friends how much they loved the class, and more and more people began to come. Eventually we had a solid 12 to 15 kids who came every day. Roy and I would edit the clips at night, which took hours of work, but it all came together in the end.

Why did you choose A Million Dreams as the song?   

The biggest reason is because of the message: “A million dreams is all it’s gonna take; a million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.” The song, from the movie The Greatest Showman, is about how all you really have to do is dream big and then work for that dream. You can accomplish anything if it means something to you and if you persevere, you can change the world.

What did you learn doing the video? 

I learned not to be scared to bring something new to a community. I learned that kids love to share what they love with other kids. They were so excited that the song we did was “A Million Dreams” because they love The Greatest Showman and they want every kid to be able to enjoy it. I think that is a beautiful thing.

What sort sort of reactions have you gotten from friends and family?  

Many of my friends posted shoutouts to the video on their Instagrams, telling people to watch it. My ASL teachers commented “Wonderful job!!” and a camp music director said “This video literally gives me hope for the future.”

What do you hope other people learn from this video?

I hope people are inspired to promote inclusivity in the world. Roy George and I have discussed that we would love to have interpreters and performances that integrate ASL so that deaf and hard of hearing kids can participate at French Woods. This is the type of inclusivity I would like to help promote in the world.

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Thanks for sharing!

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