As an American Sign Language instructor, Kiara Williams hopes to bridge the communication gap between the hearing and non-hearing communities. While she somewhat stumbled into this noble calling, her position has also led to her touching the lives of every student, coach, and fellow teacher at Pedro Menendez High School.
Growing up in Jacksonville, she was fascinated with teeth and dreamed of one day becoming a dentist. After testing out the career field during a summer internship however, she had a change of heart. At that point, Kiara had taken two years of ASL and slowly realized she possessed a natural aptitude for the language. Her confidence grew and, just as she tells some of her students today, her teacher suggested she pursue a career in that field.
After earning a Bachelors’ Degree in Deaf Education from the University of Central Florida, Kiara completed an internship at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. It was then she realized her ultimate goal. “I love sign language, and I want to teach this to hearing people,” says Kiara. “I want more hearing people to have access to communication with the deaf.”
She was working for a screen-printing business when she received a call from her high school ASL teacher letting her know about an opening at Pedro just a few days before the fall semester began. Her now boss was out of the country at the time, so Kiara had to interview for the position over the phone. It is a testament to her grace and magnetic personality that she was able to land the position without being able to demonstrate that she actually knew sign language.
Almost 15 years later, several students say she made a profound impact on them. Many explained a situation in which they were the only person at a location that could communicate with a deaf person. “You never know how the path you take is going to affect others,” says Kiara. “By teaching ASL and giving kids that skill, they’re able to use it out in the community, use it in their own lives…I love that.”
Until she retired last year, Kiara was also Pedro Menendez’s cheerleading coach. In 2015, she led her squad to become the first team in school history to win a state championship. “It was like leaving a little piece of me with each athlete,” says Kiara, “Just knowing that I touched their lives in some way, it’s amazing.”
Additionally, Kiara is a senior class sponsor, helping plan events like the homecoming dance and Grad Bash and also coordinating the annual Mr. and Mrs. Menendez Pageant. Her volunteer efforts have made her a local celebrity, receiving greetings from students and parents throughout St. Augustine. “Being able to touch students that aren’t mine in the classroom is definitely rewarding. If I was not teaching at Pedro, I probably would not be teaching,” says Kiara. “I love the school and the people here and the kids so much.”