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School teaches all its students sign language to communicate with deaf cafeteria worker

Started from just one class, a new word in sign language is now taught everyday with morning announcement.

School teaches all its students sign language to communicate with deaf cafeteria worker
Image Source: Facebook/Nansemond Parkway Elementary School

People with disabilities have a lot of difficulties living in a world tailor-made for able-bodied people. Those with speech and hearing disabilities struggle to communicate with people who don't know sign language. However, a school in Suffolk, Virginia is trying to bring a positive change. The school's food nutrition service worker is deaf and the entire school, especially the students, is now studying sign language specifically to communicate with Duckwall, reports Virginian-pilot. Leisa Duckwall has worked at the school for four years feeding students breakfast and lunch. However, she has never communicated with any of these students—even a “Hello” or “Good morning” was never communicated to her until this year when everything changed. The students have now learned these basic pleasantries to communicate with her effectively.


Duckwall feels "happy" that everyone is trying to make an effort. It began in Kari Maskelony's fourth-grade classroom before spreading to the rest of the school. Maskelony was raised in a home with hearing loss and many of her friends are hard of hearing. She understands sign language, but she has observed her loved ones' frustrations when others were unable to comprehend them. She said, "I noticed that all the kids realized that Ms. Duckwall couldn’t hear them. But they were all pointing to what they wanted, and then, she would have to point and have them say yes or no." Maskelony struck up a discussion with Duckwall in the cafeteria one day while waiting for her fourth graders to complete lunch. The two exchanged casual signs until the teacher peered over her shoulder and saw that everyone in the cafeteria was staring at them.



It struck up an idea and Maskelony asked her students the next day, "Do you guys want to learn how to sign to her what you want for lunch instead of pointing?" And everyone agreed. The lecture began with an overview of what students would need to know in order to engage with Duckwall. They began with the main courses, learning the sign language terms for chicken, fish, and other common school cafeteria food. The students next learned how to sign letters. A student would sign the letter "R" if they desired a side of rice. If they preferred carrots, they would sign "C."

The students did not stop at this and wanted to learn more. This caught the attention of school principal Janet Wright-Davis and she thought it is a great thing to teach the entire school. Morning announcements are delivered through video monitors in classrooms at Nansemond Parkway Elementary. Some are now devoted to studying sign language and every day the students learn a new word in sign language.



Duckwall said, "Not only is it great for the kids because they can learn a new skill that they can carry with them and actually use with other people that they meet, but I think it (is) great because equal inclusivity and equal access is so important." She hopes that this might inspire other schools in the country to introduce sign language. Students of the school have started using sign language to communicate with each other and practice it every day. Dylan Gustafson, 9, said that he practices the language every day after school and Demond King Hopkins, 10, thinks it is an extremely useful skill if "you have a girlfriend who is deaf" in the future.

You can watch a clip of how these students communicate with Duckwall here:



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