With traditional school options, many deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing families struggled to find an educational option that allowed their students to learn in a mixed environment. The Albuquerque Sign Language (ASL) Academy was founded by a group of educators and parents who faced this challenge every day and decided to do something about it by starting their own school.
This tuition-free, public charter school “serves deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing kids in one really beautiful, inclusive environment,” says Rafe Martinez, executive director and co-founder of ASL Academy.
When Martinez started exploring school choices for his children – one of whom is deaf and one of whom is hearing – he became discouraged by his conversations with traditional school systems and grew “kind of pissed off” that nothing was being done to help all students have a place to fit in and learn.
Thirteen years later, his dual language program is redefining deaf education. The school serves about 120 students across grades K-12, and its unique mixed model has received interest from educators and researchers from across the country. “We are a national standout when it comes to deaf education, conservation education, and special education,” Martinez said.
Currently, the ASL Academy is focusing on getting more students outdoors and learning about the environment through partnerships with the US Forest Service, the Albuquerque BioPark, and many more organizations.
Recently, they launched the Honey Badger Conservation Crew, which worked with the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP) for five weeks. Liz Douglass-Gallagher, BEMP Educator, Rio Grande Phenology Trail Educator, and Bosque School science teacher, says they “provided invaluable help during our summer data collections” and wrapping trees to protect them from beaver chewing.
In the ASL Academy, Martinez says he is “really proud to say that we’ve created something that is unique and effective.”
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