Praises for the ASL program as Natalie Cooney returns from maternity leave


Olivia Mendoza

Maddie Livingston (12) and Kaylie Do (12) eagerly pose with Natalie Cooney as she returns to class for the first time this school year.

Olivia Mendoza, News Editor

After a five month maternity leave, American Sign Language (ASL) teacher Natalie Cooney, has returned to the classroom for the first time since the 2022 school year ended. Over the span of her leave, students in ASL 1-4 had a variety of challenges and conquests they had to overcome before coming back to the classroom with their beloved teacher. 

With the constant uncertainty regarding the specific date of return, the entire ASL program had over three different teachers, including two long-term substitutes that made the transition back to school anything but seamless. 

While Ayala is only one of two campuses that provides students with the opportunity to take an ASL class within the Chino Valley Unified School District, the difficulty finding substitutes that had a background within the language was a challenge within itself. 

For most of the first semester, students were left without any sense of real direction, as the school was unable to find a proper teacher that could fill the shoes of such a great educator like Cooney herself. But as the holiday season turned the corner, Ayala finally found a sub that was once an alumni of the ASL program over ten years ago. 

However, some struggled with understanding the substitute’s motives for the program, and what she hoped to accomplish while Cooney was away. 

“Some of the greatest issues with the sub were feeling belittled and looked down on. Not only me, but I hated how she made the rest of my classmates feel too,” senior and ASL 4 student Kaylie Do said. “She came in suddenly and tried to change everything she knew as if she thought we didn’t learn anything from Mrs. Cooney.” 

The substitute programmed lessons out of the ASL level 1 book, regardless of the number of years these students had been in the class for. 

“Both the ASL 3 and 4 classes took a step back in our education because we missed out on the elements that pertained to our level within the language,” ASL 3 and 4 student Maddie Livingston said. “We also missed out on the consistency of the teaching and the cheerful attitude that Mrs. Cooney brings towards her students and the curriculum.”

Most students in the program agreed that while Cooney was on leave, her passion for teaching was one of the greatest attributes that was missing in the classroom. 

“Mrs. Cooney captures the attention of her students and always asks us how we are doing everyday before she starts the lesson, which I believe to be super important and beneficial to our learning,” said Livingston. “We now get to learn in an energetic and inviting atmosphere along with hearing about her stories about her family too that she incorporates in her lessons.”

As Cooney returned to the classroom after having a healthy newborn daughter, she was able to jump right back into the swing of things without missing a single beat, even if it came with some additional challenges. 

“The school has been helpful in making sure I have time to nurse in between periods,” ASL teacher Natalie Cooney said. “But I think that something that will always be difficult is being up all night, and being here all day with my students.” 

One of the greater issues the program faced while she was away was the possibility of even being able to host their annual ASL Variety Show. As the date grew closer, students found it difficult to express their opinions and work on the beginning stages of the show with the substitute teacher overseeing the process. 

“I had no doubt that class would’ve pulled through and done what we could to make our own show,” Do said. “We would’ve done most of our work outside the classroom our own way.” 

Clearly students were thrilled to see Cooney in the classroom as they opened the door last week. Now the program and showcase will return to its normal schedule and students are forever appreciative of her work that she has done over the past three years. 

“It was difficult shifting back, but also a relief,” said Cooney. “I love teaching, I love being with my students, I love being here.” 

The entire program is thankful for the work that Mrs. Cooney has put into her lessons and the opportunities she gives her students to progress within the ASL culture. 

“While she was on maternity leave, we kept all of her teachings and strived to make her proud.” Do said. “The program was left bitter for a couple months, but that only made us more excited to have our old teacher back.”