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Cumberland high school grad will follow the signs


Cumberland high school grad will follow the signs

CUMBERLAND — After graduating from Greely High School next Sunday, Isabelle Pisini is hoping she'll be able to keep working with her hands.

The Washington, D.C., college she'll attend – Catholic University of America – doesn't have a major in her field. But she's hoping that having Gallaudet University, which educates deaf and hard-of-hearing students, one Metro stop away will give her ample opportunity to pursue her interest in American Sign Language.

Pisini was first introduced to sign language when she was 8, she said, when her grandmother, a former ASL teacher, taught her the alphabet. The skill came in handy years later, when as a freshman she earned a spot as shortstop on the varsity softball team – and the girl playing third base was deaf.

"I could only finger-spell (at first)," Pisini said, "but we could get a point across."

The two became friends, and Pisini said she learned a lot from her teammate as well as the interpreters who attended every practice and game for the two years both girls were on the team.

"It was like a really detailed and intense game of charades," she said, through which the two girls learned to communicate enough to play the game.

As friends, they would watch movies – with subtitles – and hang out with Pisini's twin sister, Victoria. Though Pisini said her sister was never quite as interested in talking with her hands, Victoria knows enough that the twins can talk to each other across the cafeteria in school, under the pews at church, and in front of their parents and three younger siblings without anyone overhearing a word.

As a junior, Pisini decided to take her first ASL class, offered at Greely through a video feed from the Gov. Baxter School in Falmouth. She excelled, and skipped to a combined ALS 3/4 class this year, taken with just one other Greely student.

The best days of class, she said, were when the two girls would meet their Baxter School teacher somewhere and spend the afternoon signing and talking about wherever they were. Once, they went to Whole Foods in Portland and ran into some deaf students. Pisini was amazed and proud, she said, that she could understand and communicate with them.

Passionate about the language – and happy she doesn't have to think about conjugation or tenses in a second spoken language – Pisini said she takes every opportunity she can to use it. She volunteers for a summer camp at the Baxter School and babysits for a young boy with a cochlear implant.

"For not being able to hear, hanging out and playing and getting the message across and seeing the smiles on their faces because you can understand them is great," she said.

When it came time to choose a college, she went with Catholic University in part because she is a Catholic, but mostly because of its proximity to Gallaudet. She said she is unsure of whether she'll be able to take university classes through the deaf school, but said she'll take all the ASL offered at CUA and hopes to take community classes through the neighboring school.

In the long run, Pisini said she's interested in pursuing psychology or medicine, like her father, but that she'll bring sign language into whatever career path she takes. Her first goal is to get her interpreter's license, she said.

But until then, Pisini will continue working with deaf children, will share the "secret language" with her twin sister, and hope that her parents and siblings never learn how to play charades.

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or