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Students Struggle To Communicate With Deaf Worker — Until Kind Teacher Steps In.

student ordering lunch with sign language

Most schools strive to be inclusive environments for people of all ages, races, and abilities.

Fourth grade teacher Kari Maskelony takes that effort seriously, so when she noticed students struggling to communicate with a member of the staff at Nansemond Parkway Elementary School in Suffolk, Virginia, she decided to do something to help.

Kari Maskelony teaching 4th graders

Leisa Duckwall is a Food Nutrition Service Associate at the school. Since she is hearing impaired, students used to just point at the food they wanted her to serve them. Not only that, but no one could offer Leisa a simple greeting like “good morning” or say “thank you” in sign language.

Kari grew up with deaf family members and friends, and she took American Sign Language in both high school and college. She decided to teach her students a few words to make ordering lunch easier, along with making Leisa feel like the well-loved part of the community that she is.

When principal Dr. Janet Wright-Davis heard about Kari’s sign language lessons, she decided to celebrate Disability Awareness Month in October by teaching the entire school how to sign!

Every day during the morning announcements, students and staff learn and practice a new word every week. They also discuss the lunch menu and learn how to sign the words for the food options that day. The principal feels that adding sign language to the school community has been a bonding experience for everyone. In fact, it was so popular, they decided to keep it going year-round.

“Everyone has weaknesses,” said Dr. Janet Wright-Davis. “Everyone has strengths. Instead of focusing on the disability, we focus on what they can do. With Miss Duckwall, we don’t focus on the fact that she can’t hear. We focus on how neat is it that she can communicate with her hands.”

students using sign language to order lunch

Students have been enthusiastic about learning sign language. Fourth grader Michaela Waddell says being able to speak with Leisa makes her feel emotional.

“Sometimes it almost makes me cry,” Michaela said, “’cause I’m so excited that I’m learning it, and I’m happy that I’m learning it, because it’s nice.”

Kari is thrilled that her idea to teach ASL is paying off for everyone at school. She hopes that these lessons will stay with her kids forever, and she’s not just talking about the ins and outs of ASL.

“I think learning it at a young age, it is something that will stick with you,” she said, “and I think it’s good for them to understand that all of us are different. We all learn differently. We communicate differently.”

student learning ASL in school

Learning someone else’s language is one of the sweetest ways to show them you care. We’re happy to hear that Leisa is feeling so loved and included at her work!

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