For a few years now, American Sign Language (ASL) has been a highly requested addition to the World Language Department. This year, the Malden High School staff welcomes Daniella Ioannides to Malden as the school’s first ASL teacher.
Ioannides was born deaf and grew up in Northampton, a small-town in the western part of Massachusetts, a stark contrast from the bustling Malden. She would go on to study at Gallaudet University, the top university for deaf people in the US.
Sharon Kalagher, Spanish teacher and World Language teacher-leader, explained that the faculty recognized the desire for ASL and additional non-Romance languages like Chinese or Arabic. Kalagher, as well as the rest of the language department, felt as though “ASL would be a good starting point because it would be very popular.”
Previously, there were no language requirements to graduate from MHS; however, starting with the Class of 2025, things are different. Kalagher stated that they would have to take a language for two years, just like how everyone takes Gym or English. She added that “hopefully [they will] be adding onto [their] department and adding languages, as well as keeping ASL.” Kalagher also hopes that ASL will “open people’s eyes to interact with people who are deaf and hard of hearing.”
Kalagher stated that “[she] sees Ioannides regularly.” While Kalagher said that she does try to work with Ioannides’ interpreter, she added that they “communicate pretty well without the interpreter.” While it can be a bit tricky to communicate, “[Ioannides] is open to using technology” and after Kalagher types, oftentimes Ioannides signs back. Even so, Kalagher admitted that she is still working on her fluency in ASL.
Ioannides has been teaching ASL for over 25 years now. Having learned it in 1990, Ioannides began teaching it in 1995. While she majored in psychology at Gallaudet, she is glad she decided to leave the field. Ioannides said that she feels as though “[she has] been teaching for years” even before becoming a teacher, adding that “teaching is in [her] blood.” While ASL may be a bit different to teach than a language like Spanish due to its visual nature, Ioannides stated that “both are languages” so the idea is generally similar, just a different form of expression.
In previous years, Ioannides has taught both English and ASL to children simultaneously. She stated that they were particularly wonderful experiences because she has to think of how “[the kids] will think without language to begin with.” She recalled one boy who was an immigrant from Honduras, who came to the US. “[She] had to use gestures, and then shift into ASL.”
Senior Juliana Davidson, one of Ioannides’s students, stated that she is very excited about the class. Davidson is a Child of a Deaf Adult (CODA), and she stated that her mother mostly lip-reads and they oftentimes communicate through gestures. Davidson hopes to “bring [ASL] home and teach it to her.”
Davidson stated that she is eager to learn more about the foundations of ASL and “deaf history and culture” and is happy that Ioannides is teaching both topics. She is also looking forward to slowly learning more about her by signing throughout the year.
Outside of teaching, Ioannides stated that she loves genealogy, studying family trees, and reading about the topic. She also loves to watch the TV show Amazing Interiors, adding that she finds it fascinating how people create interiors that normally would not be observable from the outside.
Teaching at MHS, Ioannides has found that her favorite part about the school is the diversity among the students. While teaching in Lawrence, she observed that the majority of students were Spanish, but here it is “totally different.”
Overall, the addition of the ASL class to the language department and Ioannides to the MHS faculty has shown to be an incredible decision and one that should have been established a long time ago.