LT hires first deaf teacher for ASL curriculum

Krystle+Conrad+signing+LT+%28courtesy+of+Conrad%29

Krystle Conrad signing LT (courtesy of Conrad)

Brianna Fonseca , News Editor

This year, LT hired ASL (American Sign Language) teacher Krystle Conrad to teach the newly approved levels 3 and 4 of the ASL curriculum. Conrad is the first deaf hire at LT and will work alongside ASL teacher Colleen Gibbons.

Conrad started teaching ASL in 2014 at Moraine Valley Community College and later won “Adjunct Faculty of Year,” Conrad said. In the past, she also worked at Hinsdale South High School where she taught in the “Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program,” which consisted of 62 deaf students. 

“My favorite part about teaching is the students who come to class to learn my language,” Conrad said. “It’s a great feeling just knowing that more people are becoming aware of the Deaf community and ASL. I love being able to stand up in front of the class telling stories, making others laugh and creating a connection with everyone— it really makes for a great experience.” 

In the past, Conrad was a job coach for five years where she taught students how to find jobs, create resumes and build their interview skills, she said. After working at Hinsdale South, she became a teacher at Plainfield South High School where she taught hearing students ASL. 

“I don’t think it’s hard to teach hearing students ASL,” Conrad said. “It does, however, require a lot of practice and reviewing. I use a lot of visuals in my classes to allow students to make a connection with the vocabulary I am signing. It truly depends on the person [and] how well they pick up the language and practice.”

Many LT students are pleasantly surprised by the change, and for many, this is the first hands on experience they’ve had with deaf culture. 

Having deaf teachers would absolutely change everything,” deaf student Eian Federle ‘22 said. “They would provide a new set of challenges for students and since they are deaf, they have first-hand experience that I can totally relate to and can help other students understand too.”

In recent years, LT has only had one hearing ASL teacher, Gibbons, who has taught ASL levels l and 2. 

 “Normally I wouldn’t expect teachers to be fully understanding of the deaf culture since they are hearing, but Ms. Gibbons has a very detailed understanding of our culture and history, and I have learned so much more from her than in my whole life prior to starting high school,” Federle said. 

Along with the hiring of Conrad came the addition of ASL levels 3 and 4, allowing students to pursue the world language in their junior and senior years, Federle said. 

“Everyone has been very welcoming so far,” Conrad said. “Usually when I am in a new environment, I have to educate people how to communicate with me, such as looking at me when they talk so I can lip read. It has been extremely hard during this pandemic with everyone wearing masks. I am also trying to educate anyone I can to provide an interpreter and captions on all the new LT videos. Most of them are not captioned and I can’t enjoy them like everyone else.” 

With more levels added into the ASL curriculum along with new hires, students are being exposed to a more immersive experience when learning sign language, including being able to understand the long history and culture that comes with it,  Lauren Pena ‘21 said. 

“She has been able to share different perspectives and realities within the deaf community that I would’ve never been able to truly understand with a hearing teacher,” Pena said. “Hearing her own personal experiences and learning more about deaf culture has definitely enhanced my understanding of what ASL is truly about.” 

The ASL curriculum covers everything from basic signing to deaf history, culture and identity, Pena said. During in-person learning, students solely communicated through signing and visuals.

 “I believe it’s important that LT hires more diverse people to different curriculums because it shows a sense of equality and the true purpose of these courses,” Federle said. “It also gives more quality to the learning experience as a whole and makes it more fun to learn.”

Students have continued their learning via Zoom and continue to expand their knowledge with the curriculum as the new levels are brand new additions, Conrad said.

“The best thing about being a part of the deaf community is that we know people from all over the world,” Conrad said. “Our culture is precious, and we value everyone in it. We have our tendencies, traditions, art, literature and so much more that I absolutely love being a part of.”