photo by Emily Vaeth
Jessica Belden 02
Jessica Beldon works daily with language. Currently an instructor for Project Learn of Summit County—an organization that provides literacy programs to county residents—she has worked with language all her life.
Beldon’s parents are both deaf and met while attending the Ohio School of the Deaf in Columbus. They raised their family in Akron, where Beldon’s father worked as a printer for the Akron Beacon Journal and her mother taught at The University of Akron. While her mother, father and older brother are each deaf, Beldon and her older sister are both hearing.
Growing up, Beldon developed a deep appreciation for not only the hearing-impaired, but all different cultures. “Around the age of 9 or 10, I remember seeing pictures of Bhutanese people and wanting to know them more, and now I teach them here in Akron.”
What inspired you to become a teacher?
JB: Seeing my mom teach University of Akron students who had no knowledge of our visual language, ASL (American Sign Language), transform into successful interpreters inspired me to become a teacher. Early in high school, I struggled to keep up with note-taking my teacher’s lectures. The teacher thought I had hearing loss. After hearing tests proved that to not be the case, my mom realized it was an auditory-listening skill that I needed to develop.
How did you overcome this?
JB: The learning strategy my mom chose was for me to interpret Rap and Heavy Metal music to her while she read the lyrics. If I missed even one word, I had to start the song all over. Thus, my love for these types of music came from my deaf mom introducing me to it.
Did your mom also teach you how to interpret?
JB: Like many children, I began working in the family business. My mom trained interpreters. My brother became a CDI (Certified Deaf Interpreter) like our mom. My sister and I also became nationally-certified interpreters.
How did you transition into teaching English as a second language?
JB: After 20 years in the interpreting field, I began tutoring international adults, who were learning English as a second language. I really enjoyed it. My passion for teaching was back. I began pursuing a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language with a concentration in Intercultural Studies. Halfway through my program, my mom’s health declined so I moved back up north to be near her. Aiming to finish school sooner, I concentrated in ESL (English as a Second Language). I also completed a M.A. in Ministry, to learn more about serving people in the community. I have always had a passion to work in a field helping people.
What kind of classes do you teach at Project Learn?
JB: I am in my third year as an instructor for Project Learn of Summit County. I love what I do there. Not only do I teach ESOL classes, such as ESOL Healthcare and Career Pathways—a class designed for international medical professionals pursuing healthcare fields here in the United States—I enjoy teaching beginner-level ESOL Vocational Skills at ASIA, Inc. In addition, I teach adult Literacy and GED classes for Project Learn.
What’s one aspect of working there that is especially cool?
JB: I love creating different teaching strategies and watching students improve their skills. I also evaluate refugee new arrivals at the International Institute for English class placement. I enjoy seeing students on their journeys, from the beginning to the completion of their academic goals with us.
I heard you are a bit of world traveler. Why do you enjoy travelling?
JB: While growing up hearing in a family of deaf culture within the society of hearing culture, I learned cultural sensitivity and developed an understanding of different types of people early on. With a desire to go to Asia, I led a team of college students teaching English in Hong Kong for six weeks. The college students knew of my family’s background and dared me to talk to some people we saw signing in Hong Kong.
Did anyone answer you?
JB: I told my group that their sign language is different than ours, but they thought we could manage to communicate anyway. I approached them and signed, “Does anyone of you know ASL (American Sign Language)?” One of the ladies replied in ASL. Whew! We chatted for a little while, and she taught me several signs in HKSL (Hong Kong Sign Language).
Is there a particular place still on your travel wish-list?
JB: I have always wanted to see the Great Wall of China in person, but have not yet. Going to Tokyo has also been a dream of mine—hopefully someday.
Have your children ever traveled with you? Where did you go?
JB: I did a month-long internship in Spain teaching English to adults as well as children in an English camp. I brought my sons, so they could have cross-cultural experiences too. It brought our family closer together and solidified my decision to pursue teaching ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).