Gwinnett students win ASL Award – The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Josue Martinez, 17, and Titilayo Odupolu,16, have been friends since elementary school. Their love of theater and music brought them together, as did a shared physical condition: Both are deaf.

As students at the School of the Arts at Central Gwinnett High, the two forged another strong bond: In March, they took first place in the American Sign Language Artistic Expression competition that is part of the National Deaf High School Theatre Festival. The virtual competition is staged by the LA’s Deaf West Theatre and the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind.

“They found this project, and they rehearsed on their own after school,” said theater teacher Emily McClain. “It’s a testament to their drive and desire to be deaf performers.”

Martinez, who lives in Duluth, was born hearing, but gradually lost the ability after an illness.

“I didn’t have access to language, and it held me back in my early grades,” he said. “Then in fourth grade, I learned ASL. But because I grew up with no language, my expression is through my body and face. That’s what comes naturally to me.”

Odupolu, a Lawrenceville resident, was born deaf, grew up in a hearing family and learned ASL when she was 3.

“Most of my life, I was mainstreamed, and now in high school, I am, too,” she said. “Growing up with an interpreter and learning the body language and expression of ASL came naturally to me, but I felt I really wasn’t connected to deaf culture.”

Making that connection was the motivation behind entering the contest, said Martinez.

“We decided to get involved to meet other deaf actors and to do something for ourselves,” he said. “And there aren’t a lot of opportunities for deaf actors.”

Martinez said the school has been an exception. “We’ve had a lot of opportunities here. We’ve both been a part of the one-act play competition the 24-hour play festival and the musical showcase.”

The two tried to take their skills to the next level by entering the festival last year but didn’t make it to the finals. This year, their short performance, set to music from “The Greatest Showman,” took top honors.

“I thought the music was beautiful, and it worked well for our expressions, body language and dance,” said Martinez.

Both students see the win as a start to their future careers.

“I want to do something with musical theater and body expression, and I plan to continue on the path I’m on now to see where it leads,” said Martinez.

Odupolu aspires to be a film actor. “I’m able to self-advocate and break through communication barriers to do it,” she said.

McClain, who does not know ASL, has worked with the students and their interpreters on a variety of projects.

“Both served as directors for their fellow students in the 10-minute play competition,” she said. “That takes a lot of communication skills as well as talent and creativity. We are so proud of them.”

Information about the School of the Arts at Central Gwinnett is online at

SEND US YOUR STORIES. Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at [email protected] or 770-744-3042.

This post was originally published on this site