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Fort Bend Christian Academy students wow judges with ASL immersive musical

The Fort Bend Christian Academy theater class joined forces with the American Sign Language class to put on an unforgettable show on a national stage.

SUGAR LAND, Texas — For five years, something one-of-a-kind has been coming to life at Fort Bend Christian Academy.

"We took a chance and we combined our classes ... it was a lot of sweat and tears," theater teacher Lana Thompson said.

The theater class joined forces with the American Sign Language class. Two groups of students crafted shadow plays designed for members of the deaf community. Theater students would act and ASL students would simultaneously sign.

This year, they decided to go one step further.

"This was our first year we did a musical," theater teacher and musical director Sarah Patterson said.

"We crossed those worlds for the first time ever having to pull in non-singing, non-dancing, non-acting students and saying you can do this," Thompson said. "We took a leap of faith. We took a chance."

Getting the students to believe it was possible was the first big challenge for the history-making program.

"Honestly, I was really scared when I found out it was a musical," junior Matthew Schwab said.

ASL students had to learn to act, sing and dance. Theater students had to learn to sign for their production of Godspell Jr.

"It's really difficult to do a musical with singing and dancing, let alone learning a new language on top of that," senior Taylor May-Smith said.

Everyone was out of their comfort zone and somehow magic happened.

"It ended up being beautiful," Thompson said.

The small private high school in Sugar Land took their show to the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta and their performance left a mark on the audience and often-neglected deaf community.

Their ASL-integrated musical wowed the judges -- earning honors for Outstanding Production. That earned them the chance to perform on the main stage for nearly 7,000 people.

"We got to show all those people what an awesome, beautiful production you can put on with ASL and theater simultaneously combined," ASL teacher Elyse Debuck said.

It was a life-changing performance.

"It means something so beautiful to all of us," junior Katie Volmert said.

It means even more to those who saw it up close.

"The response we got was so amazing," May-Smith said. "We knew this was more than a performance. It meant so much to so many people."

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