St. Louis Community College
Teaching And Learning

Lisa Betzler
Lisa Gale-Betzler, longtime instructor at Florissant Valley, is one of the St. Louis area's premier deaf actresses.

Interpreter training students at Florissant Valley
Instructor Nina Wilson, left, works with Lindsey Thielemier, right, on vocabulary while Julikka Madison observes.

Florissant Valley's Interpreter Education Program Bridges Language Barrier

The fourth most commonly used language in the United States is American Sign Language.   

And it’s a good bet that local events or settings at which a sign language interpreter is working, that person is a graduate of the interpreter education program at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley.  

Established in 1980, the interpreter education program is Missouri’s oldest and largest established.  According to program coordinator Mary Luebke, Florissant Valley is considered to be the academic as well as cultural center for both deaf and interpreting students in St. Louis. 

“We have a long tradition of being sensitive to the needs of the deaf population of our service area and the state at large,” Luebke said. 

For example, Florissant Valley’s Theater of the Deaf has staged productions since 1978.  The theater, which uses both speaking and signing actors on stage, is the only one of its kind in the metro area.  The St. Louis Metro Roundtable of Representatives on Deafness recently recognized the theater with its Community Service Award.  Lisa Gale-Betzler, a longtime instructor at Florissant Valley, is considered “the premiere deaf actress in St. Louis,” Luebke said.  However, long before the theater was established, college personnel interpreted for hearing impaired patrons during theatrical productions. 

Bridging Language Barriers
Sign language interpreters bridge language barriers between people who are deaf and use ASL and people who can hear and speak English. 

State statutes now require anyone who engages in the practice of interpreting in Missouri to be certified by the Board for Certification of Interpreters and licensed by the Missouri State Committee of Interpreters.  To this end, and to increase the pool of qualified interpreters in Missouri, Luebke and other staff members redesigned the program into a 1+2 cooperative degree.  The 22-hour certificate program accommodates individuals who simply want to learn about American Sign Language and the deaf community.  Those who desire to become certified interpreters carry these 22 hours into the associate degree program. 

Qualified deaf instructors exclusively teach Florissant Valley’s ASL classes.  Interpreting courses are taught exclusively by state certified, licensed professionals.  Faculty members serve on state licensure and certification boards.   

Ninety-five percent of program graduates find employment also immediately; 100 percent of the graduates pass the state’s written licensure exam while 80 percent of the graduates receive a proficiency level certification and state license to practice. 

Growing Demand for Interpreters
The demand for qualified ASL interpreters continues to grow.  Interpreters work for the government, courts, hospital and mental health agencies, public and private educational institutions, private industry, the performing arts, and other agencies and settings. 

One current student, Joann Byrd, is a registered nurse who would like to interpret for the deaf in the healthcare environment. 

“I worked in an emergency room setting, and there never was an interpreter available,” Byrd said.  “Patients who were deaf didn’t know what was going on, and were not able to communicate with caregivers.  They need intervention because sometimes you are interpreting in life and death situations.” 

Graduates of the interpreter education program are proficient in ASL and English, and learn special techniques and ethical considerations for interpreting in a variety of settings with people of various ages.  They also are able to relate to people in individual and group settings.  

ASL Now Recognized As Foreign Language
Students now are able to earn foreign language credit for ASL courses, thanks in part to lobbying efforts by Florissant Valley’s deaf communication studies staff and students last winter and spring, as well as the Missouri Commission on the Deaf and other agencies and individuals.   

“We hope the legislation will not only increase the number of sign language courses taught statewide, but also stem a shortage of deaf communications professionals,” Luebke said.  “With more courses available, others will have a wonderful opportunity to learn more about this amazing group of people who have such a rich culture.” 

For more information about the interpreter education program, call (314) 513-4477 or e-mail Luebke, mluebke@stlcc.edu.

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