Position: American Sign Language Teacher
School: Ocean City High School
School District: Ocean City School District
City, State: Ocean City, New Jersey
About the Nominee: Amy Andersen was nominated by her superintendent, Kathleen Taylor.
Ms. Andersen founded and single-handedly developed the ASL program at Ocean City High School (OCHS) in 2004. The program, which has significantly changed her district, started with 42 students. By the second year, 142 students registered for the classes. Student interest has continued to grow, and as a result, ASL I, II and III are now offered. Ms. Andersen has made ASL one of the most popular programs in OCHS. She has created a place where students find inspiration, self-confidence, a nurturing environment and often, their future. The entire district and surrounding community has been transformed as more awareness of and respect for Deaf culture and ASL spreads.
Her impact extends beyond the four walls of her classroom. She encourages her students to find their passion by enabling them to realize the positive changes in themselves and the unique contributions they have to offer. Ms. Andersen is continually reaching out to develop a nationwide network of Deaf and hearing professionals to enhance what she teaches and to expand her students’ experiences.
Ms. Andersen has been contacted for advice and support by teachers from around the country who have also recognized her success. In 2007, she presented at the New Jersey Department of Education Administrators Roundtable, giving an overview of the OCHS ASL program.
Year after year, Ms. Andersen connects with her students, and in turn, with the local Deaf community. These ties continue long after students graduate. Ms. Andersen teaches students from different backgrounds to come together to form what students refer to as an “ASL family.”
Nicholl, a current ASL III Honors student, said, "The class is a diverse mixture of students I probably wouldn't ordinarily be friends with, not in terms of ethnicity or social status, but the typical high school cliques that separate us all. From the beginning, we learn about diversity and acceptance… how to look at a group of people who are different and view them as equals and a variation of ourselves.”
In addition to OCHS, Ms. Andersen’s influence has dramatically changed the broader Ocean City community, as well. As part of her class, she gives students opportunities to meet, sign with and learn from role models in the Deaf community. For example, using her classroom videophone, she connects students to people like Bruce Bucci, the Director of Deaf Studies at Boston University and Carl Andreasen, a Deaf survivor of the World Trade Center attack in 2001. Every month, Ms. Andersen helps run ASL Socials at a local Starbucks, where Deaf volunteers practice ASL with her students. Because of Ms. Andersen, Ocean City has become known as a Deaf-friendly town, and her program is a resource to the surrounding community, as well. When a local day care center reached out to Ms. Andersen regarding a Deaf baby in the center, she encouraged OCHS students to volunteer after school a few hours a week to provide language stimulation for the baby through play. Not only did the baby become more confident and communicative, but the ASL students became more aware of their inner talents and love for ASL.
In addition to providing a phenomenal ASL program, Ms. Andersen offers a nurturing, safe place for students to learn while building their confidence and opening up opportunities.
Ana, a graduate of the class of 2014, wrote, “Before I took your class, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my future, but your passion for ASL and Deaf culture inspired me. Without your constant support and encouragement, I never would have found the confidence in my signing to succeed. Thank you for always believing in my abilities, even when I did not. And most importantly, thank you for changing my life!”
Each year, Ms. Andersen's students present a well-attended ASL Show, the proceeds of which support ASL scholarships for senior students and Deaf related charities.
In 2014, the show's theme was "Stand for the Silent." Ms. Andersen found a way to unite the general public, her ASL students and the Deaf community with an anti-bullying theme. Students produced an ASL video based on Stand for the Silent’s signature song, “Hey Bully,” which went viral and now has 37,266 views! Students also brought in Kirk Smalley, the founder of Stand for the Silent, to present his message to OCHS, surrounding districts and the general public.
Ms. Andersen has received a number of honors and awards for her considerable and notable achievements beginning with, but certainly not limited to, earning National Board Certification - Exceptional Needs Specialist: Deaf/Hard of Hearing (2002-2012); New Jersey Association of the Deaf Award (2011); Atlantic County Society of the Deaf Certificate of Appreciation (2014); ASL Teacher of the Year (2014); and OCHS Teacher of the Year (2016).
In conclusion, it is clear that Ms. Andersen fosters a sense of community and responsibility for others in her students. She has had a life-changing effect, not only on the hundreds of students who have been fortunate enough to take her classes, but on the entire school community, including parents, and the hearing and Deaf communities of Ocean City, New Jersey.