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March 7, 2004

College student teaches sign language

From: North County Times, CA - Mar 7, 2004

By: Candice Reed - For the North County Times

ESCONDIDO ---- Jennifer Watterson doesn't know what made her walk into the Escondido Adult School offices earlier this year and offer her services as a teacher of American Sign Language. But she did it.

Now the college student is spending one night a week teaching people how to communicate with the deaf community and hopes more people will sign up for her class when it begins again on March 23.

"I love teaching people how to communicate with their children who might be deaf," said Watterson, 20, an Escondido resident. "Some people take my class and just want to learn another language and that's great. Whatever motivates people to learn to sign makes me happy."

Watterson has worked with deaf children as well as students at Palomar College and she feels she has some pretty good insight into the language.

Jennifer Watterson, college student, former beauty queen and ASL teacher is in fact, deaf.

"Being deaf has never really been a problem for me," said Watterson who reads lips. "I learned ASL when I was about 7 but I learned to speak so I use both of my skills. I don't think my life would be any different if I could hear."

The young woman, who was born deaf, was chosen as Miss Teen Escondido in 2000, sailing through the interview process with a perfect score.

"Being a queen was exhausting, I was always fund raising which was great, but I was always on the go," said the young woman, smiling. "I didn't have much of a problem communicating during my time as Miss Teen Escondido but if I did my mom or a cousin would help interpret."

Darcy Watterson, Jennifer's mother, said her daughter seems to manage just fine without much help from her.

"Jennifer had a few problems in school when she was young but she communicates very well," she said. "Sometimes people didn't even know she was deaf because she didn't fit the typical mold which could sometimes be a problem. But overall, she's like someone who can hear."

The young woman attends Palomar College and would like to transfer to Cal State San Marcos to study graphic design in the near future.

She said she hopes more students will enroll in her ASL class and noted that colleges throughout the country accept sign language to fulfill a foreign-language requirement.

"Learning ASL isn't as easy as some people might think," she said, "but I think people really enjoy being able to communicate with the deaf community."

Although Watterson said that at one time there was a debate and controversy surrounding the use of sign language instead of trying to make deaf people read lips and learn to speak, she doesn't know anyone who objects to it.

"I have friends who are deaf and we all sign and we do a lot of message text on our pagers back and forth," she said. "Signing really is a great way to communicate."

Although sign language is not the same worldwide ---- at least 200 different forms exist around the world ---- it seems the best way for Escondido resident Tamara Singler to communicate with two of her three children who have different types of hearing loss.

"I really enjoy Jennifer's class," Singler said. "I enjoy her insight and her life experiences as well as learning ASL. Looking at Jennifer and seeing how she has turned out fills me with a lot of hope for my own children."

For more information on the Escondido Adult School ASL course call (760) 739-7300.

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