Deaf and hard of hearing students have a voice at EWHS

With smaller class sizes there is a lot more time for one-on-one instruction
By Rebecca Carr | Dec 06, 2012

Being deaf or hard of hearing in a hearing world can sometimes seem a bit isolating. That feeling isn’t likely to happen at Edmonds-Woodway High School, however.

EWHS hosts the high school level of Edmonds School District’s program for deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students, pulling kids from 18 different districts in the area.

The school offers seven daily classes of American Sign Language, teaching some 200 hearing kids each year to sign along with their DHH fellow students.

“All of those kids are out in our community; they’re able to sign with our deaf and hard of hearing students and are building that bridge between the hearing and non-hearing worlds,” instructor Amy Emond said.

“It’s really not a big deal here, more like, ‘you can’t hear, so what, we’ll communicate in sign language.’”

Twelve seniors graduated in each of the past two years, leaving 38 students currently in the high school program. Madrona Middle School offers similar instruction for students pre-school age through eighth grade; the district serves DHH students from ages 3 through 21.

Students earn general education diplomas as well as vocational training, physical and occupational therapy, speech and language therapy where needed and learn appreciation for their deaf culture as well as learning how to communicate with the deaf and with the hearing world.

Social opportunities, including before and after school and weekend functions, as well as Special Olympics, are offered throughout the calendar year.

Interpreters are available both in school and at community functions, and instructors create individualized education plans for those who need them. Some classes are blended, with hearing and DHH students, and taught by instructors specially trained in educating DHH as well as teachers from the hearing world.

“It’s an amazing group of kids we have,” Emond said.

“Some are in drama, some play football, softball, tennis,” she said. “They’re involved in the different clubs, and have taken leadership roles in those clubs and within the school.”

Emond is a natural for the program as well; her mother taught ASL and Emond grew up attending school with hearing as well as deaf and hard of hearing students. She’s fluent in American Sign Language and can generally get by signing in other countries such as Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and England.

Surprisingly, British Sign Language is a lot different than American, Emond said. In fact, French Sign Language most closely approximates what is taught here, she said.

“We always try to sign and speak the language when we visit other countries,” Emond said.

What is a typical day for Emond and her colleagues?

“Chaos!” she said, laughing, making it clear she not only enjoys, but thrives in the chaotic, energy-charged world of high school students.

DHH serves students from all over the education spectrum, from those with learning disabilities and other challenges, to those in the International Baccalaureate program.

This spring, Emond’s students will compete again in the national level Academic Bowl for Deaf and Hard of Hearing High School Students, having qualified at the regional level to earn an all-expense paid trip to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

“We have four teams who compete at regionals; we’ve been lucky enough to win each year,” Emond said.

The EWHS team placed in the top 10 the past three years, Emond said.

If there is one tip DHH students would like to share with the hearing world, it’s that shouting does not help. In fact, Emond said, it makes it even harder to communicate.

“When you yell, your whole face changes,” she explained. “Lip-reading, for those who can, is nearly impossible when you’re yelling.”

Same with making exaggerated lip movements when voicing each syllable, she said.

“Just speak normally and make sure you’re looking at the deaf or hard of hearing person,” she said.

One more thing to keep in mind: it’s not contagious. Emond recalled a recent incident in a grocery store where a deaf couple was trying to ask for direction.

“The woman’s eyes bugged out, and she literally held her hands up and backed away!” Emond said.

Emond was hard-pressed to come up with the most challenging aspect of her job.

The funnest part? That was an easy one:

“Seeing those light bulbs go on, seeing them learning, watching their faces as the knowledge sinks into their brains,” she said.

With smaller class sizes – Emond’s have ranged from 13 students to as few as four – there is a lot more time for one-on-one instruction, and more time for students and staff to work closely together and get to know one another.

That home feeling stays even well after graduation, Emond said. Students frequently come back to tell of their own progress out in the world, and see how their younger friends and former teachers are doing.


For more information, visit, or contact Emond at


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