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The City Journals

Hunter High ASL teacher receives inspirational award from Youth City Council

May 09, 2018 05:20PM ● By Jennifer Gardiner

Hunter High ASL teacher Michael Barney poses for a photo with the West Valley City Council after receiving the Inspiration Award from the West Valley City Youth Council. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Jennifer Gardiner | [email protected] 

In March, Hunter High School’s American Sign Language (ASL) teacher Michael Barney received one of the three inspirational teacher awards given by the Youth City Council in West Valley City. 

Barney has taught ASL at Hunter High for the past 13 years. Born deaf, Barney said he has always tried to be more than he can be.

“I graduated with a degree in graphic design and yet I became an ASL teacher because I love ASL and working with people. I teach because I love ASL and working with people,” Barney wrote in an email interview. “My wife is deaf. My four kids are hearing but they understand ASL. Many of my friends are deaf and I attend a deaf congregation church.”

Barney wrote he loves the ideas working in the students' heads and them getting it, the "a-ha" moments when they tie in signs and concepts.

“I average 30-40 students per class. I introduce my students to the Deaf Culture and use ASL as the target language to communicate,” Barney wrote. “I try to teach my students to communicate for themselves and to figure out how to interact with the deaf community.”

Barney teaches three different levels of ASL classes. Level one is an introductory class that teaches the basic sign language skills like greeting and exchanging personal information. The level two class teaches the students to build on what they've learned from level one and do intermediate sign language skills. In level three, the students get into the main part of the language where they have a range of skills to choose from to communicate. 

Barney wrote he takes pride in his program and tries to keep it strong by making it interesting and fun to learn.

“I love working with my students. Granted, I do have a few students who I need to encourage, but many of them are great,” Barney wrote. “I hate paperwork and meetings because I rather be teaching or working with my students. But overall, I get the classroom to myself so I have to be in charge of the ASL program and I try my best to make the ASL program great at Hunter High.”

The West Valley City Youth Council worked for months to recognize and award inspirational teachers in Hunter, Granger, and APA.

“We sent out surveys, counted votes, and notified the three teachers of their success,” said Jelena Dragicevic, mayor of the YCC. “O.C. Tanner generously donated three crystal trophies given to these incredible teachers on March 6 in front of the council.”

At the award ceremony, Barney was described as an inspirational teacher who cares about his students and he interacts with them by asking questions and taking an interest in their lives. He said he was surprised to receive the award because he feels he is always doing what he always does and busy doing many things for the ASL classes.

“I especially try to make time for my students to communicate with me because I feel the more they use the language the more they remember it,” Barney wrote. “This is something I've always done and I hope the students go away from that experience feeling better. It was an honor to receive the award and I hope to live up to its expectation. It was an honor to meet and shake hands with the city council of West Valley City.” 

The two other teachers who received awards were Jeffrey Sorensen from American Preparatory Academy and Aaron Cousins from Granger High. 

The YCC is a group of teens who attend schools within the city. Members of Youth Council generally have a strong interest in government, local issues and civic responsibilities who help to give back to the community through learning activities and service projects.

To learn more about the YCC, visit their website at