A Sign of the Times – American Sign Language Program Thriving

Jim Brewington had been serving as the Pastor for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at Saddleback Church for fifteen years when the Lord opened a new door for him to walk through:  teaching American Sign Language (ASL) at Saddleback Valley Christian.  That was six years ago.  Today, the ASL program is considered to be one of the best of its kind in Orange County.  

Since its inception, SVC’s ASL program has grown considerably and now offers four UC-approved courses:  ASL I, II, III and IV. Three years ago, an Introduction to ASL was added to the Jr. High offerings.  This affords 7th and 8th grade students the opportunity to explore the language prior to entering High School where they are required to take a language other than English.

The American Sign Language curriculum is designed to take a beginning student who knows little or nothing about ASL through a four-year course of study with the goal that, upon completion, will prepare the student to participate in the interpreting profession at an entry level. The curriculum includes a book authored by Pastor Brewington, Let There Be Light Please!

“This is not just an ASL program; it’s also an interpreter program,” said Pastor Brewington. “This is the major distinction between what we do at SVC and what most other secondary schools do.”

Pastor Brewington first witnessed people using sign language when he was in the 5th grade. “That was back in the 1950’s. At that time, deaf people were marginalized — sometimes even put in asylums — because it was assumed that they couldn’t think properly.  Signing in public was stigmatized, but I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen.  I decided right then that I would learn sign language one day.”

That day came roughly 30 years later when Pastor Brewington enrolled in a 32-unit interpreter program at Saddleback College. His interest as a child developed into his passion as an adult. Upon completion of the coursework (with a 4.0 GPA), the Head of Special Services at Saddleback College offered him a job as an interpreter at the college — a job he held for 25 years.

Today, students at SVC are the beneficiaries of Pastor Brewington’s expertise and passion. Christina Martinez, SVC alumna, who earned a degree in Speech Pathology at California State University, San Diego said, “Learning ASL in High School was such a help in college. I felt so engaged in my college classes compared to other students.”

Fun fact:  Christina is now on staff at SVC, teaching Jr. High ASL — working alongside of her longtime mentor, Pastor Brewington!

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