How one senior created an entire week of ASL awareness

For their Girl Scout Gold Award, Em Burch encouraged students to embrace deaf culture


Alicia Tan

Em Burch posing next to the banner they designed for a week of ASL awareness.

Alicia Tan, Staff Writer

LOS ALAMITOS, CA – Diverse and beautiful, sign language is a powerful and dynamic language with hundreds of dialects worldwide. Although many are unfamiliar with the specifics of deaf culture and the deaf community, sign language and its American dialect, American Sign Language (ASL), have gained increased recognition over the past few years. At Los Alamitos High School, ASL is one of the most enrolled languages behind Spanish. The program has been growing at a quick pace, as evidenced by the fact that Los Al recently hired a new ASL teacher. Still, there are many misconceptions about ASL that frustrate the deaf community on a daily basis.

For their Girl Scout Gold Award project, senior Em Burch hosted a week of ASL awareness at Los Al. The Gold Award is the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive. They get this award after completing a measurable, sustainable, and impactful service project that takes at least 80 hours to complete. Burch, a Girl Scout for 13 years, knew they wanted to complete their Gold Award. However, in order to start a Gold Award project, Girl Scouts must first get a proposal of their project approved by a member of the Gold Award committee. 

When debating their project’s topic, Burch immediately thought of ASL. Burch completed four years of ASL and is a part of Los Al’s ASL Honor Society. They appreciate the language for its creativity and diversity and have always pushed to make their peers more aware of ASL’s validity as a language.

After debating on several different ways to bring ASL awareness to Los Al, Burch finally settled on hosting an ASL awareness week. They created a website that includes information about sign language, sign language in action, and sign language events hosted by Burch. Burch also designed and funded banners to hang around school that advertised ASL Awareness Week.

One of the banners Burch designed for the week of awareness hanging in front of the Media Center. (Alicia Tan)

The highlight of the project was an ASL awareness event in the Media Center that took place on Thursday, March 16. The night was open to students across campus and from other schools.

The event started with light conversation and snacks. People filled out tags that indicated the name they go by as well as their level of ASL. Next, people mingled with others, meeting new faces and hanging out with familiar ones. Attendees munched on cookies, veggies, fruit, and more as they got to know the people around them.

The fun of the event truly kicked off when everyone started playing games together. People played hangman, signing the letters they wanted to guess. 

Attendees also played the elephant game, a common game in deaf culture for its fun and quick nature. In the elephant game, people gather in a circle around one person. The person in the center points at individuals surrounding them, and the person who was pointed at must quickly make an elephant trunk as the people on either side of them make ears for them. 

Event attendees playing the game Red Ball, a common game played in deaf culture. (Alicia Tan)

The night ended with the improvisation game Red Ball. In Red Ball, one person starts by pretending they have a red ball and tossing it to someone else in the room. The player then gestures to transform that ball into something else and passes it to a different person. The game went on for over an hour as everyone in the room got multiple chances to come up with their own objects and practice their gesturing skills.

All three games were great examples of deaf culture because of the lack of verbal words needed to participate. 

Although most attendees were already in ASL and familiar with deaf culture, the few who didn’t know much about the language were able to gain valuable information and meaning from the experience. 

“I think this experience was really insightful, really fun, and a good way to show that ASL isn’t scary, and it’s actually really useful,” said senior Vivian Tsai, who had no experience in ASL. “I feel a lot more comfortable now.”

In order to make the project sustainable, Burch worked with school administrators as well as one of Los Al’s ASL teachers, Mrs. Bennett, to make the event a consistent tradition on campus.

“I hope that people took away a little bit of an understanding of deaf culture through our games and a better understanding of the language [(ASL)] and the community,” Burch said. “I think [ASL] is a very creative and fun language.”

Although the project itself was only a week long, the lessons that Burch wants to teach stretch far beyond Los Al’s event. Sign language is diverse, dynamic, and dazzling. It has several dialects, and the culture of the deaf community is just as unique. The growing visibility of the deaf community through projects like Burch’s allows people to be exposed to deaf culture. 

“Deaf people are a minority group that have their own language, but they’re people just like the rest of us,” Mrs. Bennett said. “Be kind to them just like you should be kind to everyone else. Hopefully we’re going to do this again, and hopefully more people can make it next time.”

Attendees of Burch’s event gather for a photo, signing “I love you.” (Alicia Tan)