Deaf Person of the Month
Laurene E. Simms
Professor and advocate
As have so many Deaf women of color, Laurene Simms‘s story begins in poverty, with low expectations. She was one of seven children of Rosa Lee, homemaker, and Frank Simms, night-maintenace man. As a baby, she contracted polio, which left her profoundly deaf. Her parents were counseled not to sign with her (the usual advice given parents the early 1950s), so she had a rough start.
She was initially enrolled in an oral school, but was so frustrated there that hher mother did something about it. Although Indiana School for the Deaf was within 5 miles of her home, Rosa Lee Simms didn't know about it. But once she found out (by a fortunate encounter with a signing woman and her daughter downtown), Laurene was enrolled there, a decision that changed her life for the better.
After graduating, she decided to become a teacher. She was inspired by the example of Marva Collins, a maverick public-school teacher's aide who founded a private school that focused on literacy and thinking skills, and turned out serious students who became well-educated, successful professionals.
After earning her Master’s in Deaf Education from Western Maryland (now McDaniel) College, she returned to ISD to teach. She earned her doctorate at University of Arizona, Tucson, becoming ISD’s first Black alumna to earn a doctorate. She's noow Professor in Gallaudet University’s Department of Education, an authority on Bilingual ASL/English education, and an advocate on behalf of Deaf woman of color. She wants to see more Deaf people of color in the teaching profession.
On September 28, 2018, as part of its 175th-anniversary festivities, ISD named its Elementary Department in Simms's honor . . . a most appropriate honor.