The unpleasant memories flood back in an instant when 33-year-old Jeff Tackett sees someone marginalize or belittle a hearing-impaired person.

Tackett's parents, Hilliard residents Danny and Debra, are both deaf.

"I didn't understand (our differences) until I went to elementary school," he said.

That's when the jokes started about his parents being deaf, he said.

It didn't help that even though he began learning sign language before he started school, he required additional tutoring to get up to speed on his speech and reading development, Tackett said.

Those memories inspired Tackett, a 2001 Darby High School graduate and a special-education teacher for Hilliard City Schools, to help a new generation of students become advocates for the deaf community in Hilliard.

It's a community that Tackett says he can't quantify but he knows it exists.

He said his vision is to create an awareness of it and a path for hearing-impaired students to go to their hometown school rather than the Ohio School for the Deaf.

This school year, Hilliard for the first time will offer American Sign Language as a course at the McVey Innovative Learning Center.

Tackett will teach 75 students in three sections of ASL-1 at the MILC when classes resume in August.

When ASL was introduced as a class that met the district's foreign-language requirement, there "was an immediate interest," and all three sections are filled, said Mark Tremayne, director of innovation and extended learning.

In addition to teaching new sections of ASL-1, Tackett plans to develop an ASL-2 class next year for those who want to continue learning sign language.

Program origins

Less than a year ago, Tackett had no idea he would be teaching ASL to a cadre of eager students.

But a story he shared last year with students and staff members at Heritage Middle School led him to it.

Three years ago, Tackett suffered a stroke in his sleep.

He has recovered fully, and during rehabilitation, he often summoned courage and strength from his parents, he said.

"Everything they do is a challenge. Just going out the door into the (hearing) world is a challenge. ... If they can do that every day, I knew I could (recover)," Tackett said.

Tackett told the story as a lesson in perseverance in the face of a challenge.

It moved Dawn Sayre, then the principal of Heritage and now director of middle-level education, to ask Tackett if he was interested in teaching sign language.

The district assisted Tackett with submitting an application to the Ohio Department of Education and after about a six-month wait, an ODE credential-review board deemed that Tackett, even without formal instruction, met the criteria and was qualified to teach ASL.

"We're really excited about it, and we think (ASL in our schools) can have a huge impact," said John Bandow, director of high school curriculum and college partnerships.

Creating advocates

Ultimately, Tackett said, he hopes students will become aware of the hearing-impaired community and, when possible, be advocates for it.

"I was at a hospital not long ago and saw a woman, a patient, struggling to explain (something). I asked to (interpret) and she began crying," said Tackett, who hopes his students can help in such instances, even if it is assisting a hearing-impaired person at a grocery store.

Speaking with her son as an interpreter, Debra Tackett said she is excited about his endeavor.

"She is excited about ASL starting in the schools and hopes to see more people who can sign in the community," Tackett said.

Debra Tackett, he said, has an advantage of reading lips better than his father does and she frequents the same stores where employees are able to understand her basic signs.

She also watches her grandchildren -- Tackett's two children, Mason, 6, and Reese, 3. His wife, Melissa, is a teacher at Washington Elementary School.

Mason, even before he began speaking, could ask his grandmother for cookies and milk through the proper sign language, Tackett said.

Although he has yet to consider the logistics, Tackett said he also wants to launch ASL community classes designed for adults.

"I don't think it is any easier today for the hearing impaired (to find complete acceptance). ... I want to change that," Tackett said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo