Erica Hartfield wants to communicate with as many people as possible, expanding her ability to do so by learning Spanish and sign language.
"I always was interested in sign language," said Erica, who also is a member of the Spanish Honor Society at Evans High School where she is a senior. "It's just another way to communicate with people I otherwise couldn't communicate with."
Erica learned sign language for her senior project, which every Columbia County high school senior must undertake. The senior project involves the selection of a topic that is researched extensively. The student finds an expert in that field to serve as a mentor or an interview subject.
Each student must compile a portfolio that documents the journey through the project and must make two presentations - one to his or her English class and another to a board of teachers and community members who grade the student on the work.
Kenneth Williams, who worked with Erica on her project, said he was impressed beyond words on how dedicated the 18-year-old was to learning sign language.
Erica Hartfield learned sign language for her senior
project at Evans High School.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"What didn't impress me about her?" said Williams, who is an advocate at the Georgia Council for the Hearing Impaired Inc. in Augusta. "What really impressed me about her was the fact that she expressed an interest at the high school level. I usually see people pick it up as an aspect of their profession."
Erica's desire to learn sign language has nothing to do with what she intends to do after graduation this month. She plans to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she will major in chemical engineering. Instead, her desire to learn sign language was motivated by a greater desire to communicate with others.
"I began taking sign language classes last August and continued through January," said Erica, who also is captain of the Knights' flag team and a member of the school's concert band where she plays the flute. "I put in about 30 hours of work learning sign language."
"There are few times that I can count that a person Erica's age has expressed a vested interest in learning sign language," said Williams, who says Erica can communicate on a basic level with members of the deaf community. "She could have taken the easy route and learned a few simple things, but she took it from the vantage point of 'I want to learn the basics of this language."'
Erica, the daughter of Sinclair and Maxine White of Martinez, tagged along with Williams when he did presentations.
"I do have the ability to communicate with deaf people," Erica said. "I now know the basic communication skills of sign language."
"It was more than a senior project," Williams said. "She took a vested interest in an oftentimes underserved community."
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