Think about the sounds when you’re cooking. The tick, tick of the gas burner…the sizzle when your steak hits the hot pan…the bubbling pops of boiling liquid or the beeping timer for a proper cook time. But, when you are hearing impaired, how do you compensate for these kitchen nuances most people don’t even think about it?

For Ashley M., 17, it’s just one more challenge that she bravely faces every day. Due to a severe and long-lasting illness as a young child, she lost most of her hearing, some of her sight and she has frequent seizures. But that doesn’t slow her down – not even in her CTE Culinary Arts classes. “Ashley is a super star,” says teacher Chef Shanel Burnias. “She’s watching me demonstrate a skill, looking at her American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter and performing the cooking technique – all at the same time! She’s so focused.”

Ashley’s mom, Melissa, points out that while the Culinary Arts program is a fun elective for some students, or the start to a foodservice career for others, for Ashley, it’s about learning important life skills. She needs to know how to watch for the things she can’t hear in the kitchen. “She’s a visual learner, so Chef Burnias makes sure to explain and teach so that Ashley can master the lessons. Ashley is now helping me prepare family dinners and she recently made a batch of cookies all by herself, which was a milestone for her,” she said. “Chef instilled her confidence, which has been terrific to help her overcome her shyness.”

Like all the teachers and counselors at Learn4Life, Chef Burnias is used to working with students who have all sorts of learning challenges. Our personalized model is tailored to each student and the way they learn best, which has been ideal for Ashley. Her elementary school was a DHH (deaf and hard of hearing) and she loved school, but in junior high, everything changed.

“I didn’t like going to the regular junior high school. There were too many kids and pressures, and I felt lost because I couldn’t follow conversations,” Ashley said. “I was bullied for being different.” Plus, with her compromised immune system, she was frequently sick and had to go back into the hospital.

Ashley came to Learn4Life three years ago and we got her an interpreter and implemented the resources and help she needed to succeed. “I love Learn4Life. I am not worried about my credits and can work at my own speed. The teachers help me understand when I feel lost,” she said.

“My teachers are the best…they care about how I feel and are especially understanding when I miss conversations. My school interpreter helps me so much. At first, I was shy, but she made me laugh and helped me feel better.”

Ashley is on track to graduate this year and hopes to get a job and continue to expand her fluency in ASL. She loves working with animals and she has taken courses to train her family dog to be aware of and respond to her needs.


Written By:
Ann Abajian
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