Signing through language barriers
ASL teacher on journey with Deaf community
October 5, 2022
The silence doesn’t break as expressions move across faces. Hand signs fill the room as ASL teacher Marta Mentesana holds a conversation with a classroom full of students.
Mentesana’s journey with the deaf community started when she was a student at Hebron; she was taught by ASL teacher Michelle Shadow when she joined ASL her junior year, and took the elective at the Dale Jackson Career Center. After high school, she moved around schools and ended up at Lamar University, where she reconnected with ASL after a gap between her junior year in high school and freshman year in college.
“I always remember ASL being a really fun class for me because I’m very extroverted; it allowed me to interact with a lot of people,” Mentesana said. “I always loved it from the beginning.”
American Sign Language became a passion for Mentesana and has benefited her personal life.
“I first took ASL, honestly, because I thought that it would be a better class for me than Spanish [since] I’m dyslexic,” Mentesana said. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to spell and pronounce words, [but] I just fell in love with it [through sign language.]”
During her time at Lamar University, Mentesana decided to pursue ASL as her major. She said she faced many hardships, like remembering signs, but her dedication helped her push through, and it became something she wanted to do as a career.
“[Around sophomore year in college,] there was a point where I was really scared that I wasn’t going to be able to be successful in sign language because when you’re learning a foreign language, there’s kind of this barrier that stands between you and fluency,” Mentesana said. “You kind of have to break through that, and it takes a lot of dedication and a lot of getting involved in whatever language you’re communicating with.”
Shadow said Mentesana’s presence at Hebron has benefited students, and she made the program feel more like a home.
“She’s really good at making our kids feel safe, she’s really good at making them excited [and] she’s really good at finding ways to learn and have a good time,” Shadow said. “I think that having her here has done great things for our program. She brings joy to some of our students who often struggle to find a place where they fit in.”
Sophomore and member of The Signing Hawks Claire Gross said Mentesana is as flexible with students as possible, and that she has been able to grow since being in her class.
“Not a lot of people know [ASL,] so when you run into someone that doesn’t know how to help anyone [communicate,] [you’re able to] help,” Gross said. “And [Mentesana] brought me out of my shell [to] be able to go help people.”
Mentesana hopes to improve the deaf community by spreading its language and exposing more hearing people to ASL.
“[I’m] hoping that through my teaching I can educate more [students], the younger generation,” Mentesana said. “Deaf people are to be respected and Deaf people are capable of anything.”