Published Oct. 2, 2023
BY BROOKLYN CHAVEZ
When walking up to most classrooms at Carmel High School, a visitor would typically hear students talking or laughing or a teacher lecturing. But in the back of the school, a silent language class takes place.
Mia Baglietto, known in the classroom as “Ms. B,” got into teaching after being asked to start an American Sign Language program, but now she stays to teach growing generations a non-verbal form of communication. Connecting deeply with her students as the only sign language teacher in the Carmel School District–one of two teachers in Monterey County–the exclusive language teacher loves her job and the opportunity to teach a visual language.
“When you know nothing,” Baglietto says about her first year students, “that’s the most fun, because everything is new.”
The value of sign is important: Languages are a worldwide constant and the knowledge of visual languages reaches further to a diverse and unique community. Baglietto makes sure her students understand the language and Deaf culture. In her classes, the teacher sometimes signs while talking to her lower level students–known as SimCom, short for simultaneous communication–to help introduce and aid the new learners.
“I like the fact that my freshmen classes are a little bit smaller class sizes,” the sign teacher says, “so my hope is more hands on, more signing, in the class to have more time for students to have conversation.”
Baglietto finds herself with the same students over the years, actively watching and encouraging their growth.
“She’s really supportive,” ASL III junior Dylan Hinds says. “She’s such a funny person, just being in her class is amazing.”
In her upper-level classes, students get used to signing on a conversational basis, prompting them to interact with members of the Deaf community outside of the classroom. Learning a new language is difficult, and Baglietto is supportive during the pursuit of acquisition.
“I just had someone that told me they had a conversation with a deaf person,” the educator explains. “They noticed that they weren’t really talking to them and they ended up signing to them and how excited the deaf person was when they knew ASL. And that’s generally what happens.”
Students of all levels find the environment Baglietto has created to be a place where they can find support. Though not returning for a third year of ASL, senior Sydney Slocum still feels comfortable to stop by and visit.
“She’s such a sweet teacher,” Slocum says. “She’s one of my favorite teachers.”
The ability to connect so deeply with her students is an attribute that Baglietto holds strong, and through this, it gives her students the determination to continue learning ASL.
“I’m a people person,” Baglietto explains, “so getting to be around a lot of people every day is healthy for me.”
The value of sign language not only gives students the ability to communicate with a larger group, but allows for another level of personal awareness.
“It changes you to be more in tune with your facial expressions,” she says, “and how you’re expressing yourself.”
Although the Californian was born hard of hearing, she didn’t fully learn sign till junior college. While this is not too abnormal, Baglietto was taught some sign language growing up, and understood some Italian, as she temporarily lived in Italy when she was eight years old.
“My dad bought a van and we traveled everywhere,” she explains with a smile. “He had us live in unique places. We lived with a family that made cheese and we lived on their dairy farm. It was very interesting.”
While the ASL teacher doesn’t currently speak Italian, she has taken up studying French as her daughter is actively learning the language at Carmel High. Using ASL as a primary language, her children’s first language was sign.
World language department chair, friend and French teacher Suzanne Marden has a close relationship with her co-worker. Marden has been able to see the relationships Baglietto has fostered between her and her students.
“She takes everyone and anyone under her wing,” Marden recounts, “and protects them like a lion. That’s pretty amazing.”
As time continues, Baglietto remains a staple of the language department and a comfortable person for students to go to, as well as being an excellent educator. In her class, students learn the value of connection through language, and many of her students go on to continue to use the language Mia Baglietto has taught them.