Lea Clark loves ASL, Deaf community


Photo by Ethan Lenkin

ASL students practice signing to each other during class time.

Lea Clark remembers former students who have come back and tell her that they are majoring in Deaf studies or are now teaching at the School for the Deaf. One student ended up marrying a Deaf guy. Another student went to Italy and learned Italian Sign Language. “It’s kind of neat to see what I do in this room has a lasting impact on some people,” Clark said.

Lea Clark is a mother, daughter, interpreter and much more who genuinely loves the Deaf community, is a self-proclaimed “ASL nerd” and enjoys teaching at this school. Clark first came across ASL when she was 19 years old in Target with her mother. “I thought it was really cool so my mom made me take a class but I actually loved it. The teacher was Deaf so I had to figure out how to communicate with her, which was really fascinating. I ended up majoring in it when I went to college,” Clark said.

The New Jersey-born and raised teacher’s free time is often spent with her five and two-year-old sons and interpreting. “I interpret sometimes for MCPS; back to school nights, workshops, parent-teacher conferences,” Clark said.

If Clark was not an ASL teacher she believes she would be an interpreter. “I feel like Sign Language would be a part of my life in some way regardless,” Clark said.

Clark’s classroom includes Deaf celebrities such as Nyle DiMarco, Marlee Matlin, and Daniel Durant. “Whenever a Deaf person came to the area we would go buy tickets. And this one guy Nyle DiMarco was actually friends with some of my Deaf friends because he’s from this area. So I actually met him before he became famous,” Clark said.

ASL works well for the Deaf community as they are visual people. According to the Friends superfan, “It’s very popular around here, I think ASL is like the fourth most used language in the United States and the second or third here in the D.C. area. A lot of deaf people in this area,” Clark said. Clark is loved by students. “She’s always very organized and prepared for her lessons,” freshman Avni Koenig said.

Furthermore, students enjoy learning ASL. “It’s a whole new culture, with different aspects and different rules that are very captivating,” freshman and ASL 1 student Leila Alam said.
Other than working at this school, she spent a couple of years working at Rockville’s hard-of-hearing program in the afternoons in addition to working at this school in the mornings. “I had some Deaf teachers in my classes and Deaf students in my classes so that was kind of neat,” Clark said.

Additionally, Clark thinks it is important that hearing people also know ASL. “Inclusion, accessibility, especially in this area. Deaf people are just like us. If we make the effort to include them and learn their language and make them a part of the equation. I feel like that’s really important,” Clark said.