Community involvement is stressed in all of her classes.
Without saying a word, and from across the room, Michelle Czarnecki gives a student instructions. As the student responds, the person next to her says, ‘I want to learn that secret language.”
The “secret language” is American Sign Language, and Czarnecki has been teaching it since 2007 at Matanzas High School.
Czarnecki was hired by the school specifically to establish the program. In the subsequent eight years she has expanded it to include on and off-site event, and a sign language club.
“Some have deaf family members, and there’s “Switched at Birth,” with deaf characters,” Czarnecki said. “That’s great for our program because they see how it works.”
Czarnecki takes a bus full of students to homecoming at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine every year. It is one of the ways she immerses her students in the language and culture.
In March, students who have scores 85% or higher, will have the opportunity to go on the third annual trip to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.
“They get a full day at Gallaudet,” she said. “They (the university) give us a tour and we split into smaller groups to observe classes. They also get to visit the elementary school.”
Czarnecki encourages her students to take what they learn beyond the classroom with monthly events at Starbucks on State Road 100, and participation in the monthly deaf social at the Volusia Mall food court. The students have also become the teacher, by teaching after-school classes to faculty and students not enrolled in the program.
When she isn’t with her sign language students, Czarnecki is in charge of the Student Government leadership programs.
In front of a Matanzas pirate banner, her students present live video morning announcements submitted by the staff. The announcements begin with the pledge of allegiance and the MHS Color Guard.
This group, many who have been in her sign language classes, is also community focused, from hosting some of the most successful homecomings in the school’s history, to fundraisers for Make A Wish, and Pennies for Leukemia foundations.
She is proud of her student’s paying it forward.
“If one or two of my students become interpreters or teachers, they are touching that many additional lives,” she said.