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It was a desire to help people in the deaf community be heard that led Jo Underwood, 17, to create a project she called the Sound of Silence and start an American Sign Language club at her school. The Hillcrest High School senior has dedicated countless hours to helping spread awareness and acceptance of the hearing impaired in her community. 

Underwood said that she sees issues every day for those who are hard of hearing and use ASL as their primary means of communication. She began learning sign language when she was in middle school and it sparked an interest in helping those around her to understand the language. 

“I want to normalize ASL as much as I can as a hearing person with a platform,” she said. “I wish people would see ASL for what it is, a beautiful, non-verbal language.” 

Anna Cuyar, a Spanish teacher at Hillcrest, helped Underwood with her efforts. She said her Spanish class planned to teach special education students a song in Spanish, and in turn, they would teach a song in ASL. Underwood learned it in both languages.

“Seeds planted by Jo will impact our students in the future,” Cuyar said. “She is a young lady who will make a big impact.”

Even though COVID-19 has put the school’s ASL club on hold, Underwood is still trying to raise awareness, including performing her entire debate team piece in ASL with her partner. 

“I just hope that now, more people see that deaf and hard of hearing individuals are exactly like us,” she said. “It’s only their ears that don’t work, not their brain.”

According to Cuyar, Underwood is always eager and ready to learn and help. She has worked hard to educate her fellow students and others about the importance of reaching out to the hard of hearing community around them.

The project was a great success, according to Underwood, with over 5,000 people having seen her perform sign language throughout her community. Underwood was able to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award, the Girl Scouts’ highest honor, with this project. 

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