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Kids surprise deaf cafeteria worker by learning sign language to communicate with her

Their teacher helped them learn new words every week.

ASL; elementary school; teachers; communication
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Kids surprise deaf cafeteria worker by learning sign language.

Here at Upworthy, we try to bring you heartwarming stories, so when we came across this story by My Modern Met, we knew we had to share it.

Kids are always surprising adults with questions or new skills they've learned. Young students at Nansemond Parkway Elementary School in Suffolk, Virginia, wanted to be able to communicate with the cafeteria worker who served them breakfast and lunch everyday. So they learned how.

Leisa Duckwall is deaf and had been working at the school for four years serving the students and staff. Because Duckwall cannot hear, she and the students did the best they could to make it work, until a teacher had an idea. Kari Maskelony, who teaches fourth grade, spoke with Duckwall using American Sign Language (ASL) and noticed the cafeteria went silent.

Students watched in awe as the two women used their hands to communicate. Maskelony grew up in a family that was hard of hearing, so sign language was part of her life, according to My Modern Met. After seeing the reaction of students, Maskelony asked the kids if they would like to learn the language.


One in eight people aged 12 and older in the United States have hearing loss in both ears. Around the world there are more than 70 million people who use sign language to communicate, yet not many people outside of the deaf community know sign language. The lack of access to sign language from the hearing world makes moving through life more difficult for deaf people. While places like Starbucks and Disney are working to include ASL, it's not widely used by businesses.

Now this cafeteria worker may finally be able to communicate with the students that come through her line. According to My Modern Met, the principal got wind of what was happening and decided to make it a schoolwide effort, including having morning announcements via video that taught a new word in sign language weekly.

Duckwall told My Modern Met, “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,” she said, “but I think it (is) great because equal inclusivity and equal access is so important. It’s just something that we don’t often see.”

The elementary school posted a video of the children ordering lunch using ASL and people in the comments can't get enough of the exchange. Kimberly Duncan wrote, "I wish all schools taught asl! This is a great idea!" Cheyenne Smith said, "This touched my heart in a way like no other."

All of the comments under the video praised the teacher and the school for teaching the children such an amazing skill that they can carry with them outside of the elementary school walls.

If Duckwall had any doubt that her school cared about her experience there, she can now rest assured that her students worked hard to make sure they could communicate in a language she could understand. That's the sweetest gift these little ones could give.

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