CWU Deaf Studies student aspires to teach children just like him

  • February 12, 2024
  • Katherine Camarata

Jesús Chavez Lara is using his WAVE scholarship to pursue a career in education

With dreams of pursuing the path of an educator for the deaf, Jesús Chavez Lara chose CWU for his studies after receiving the Washington Award for Vocational Excellence (WAVE) in 2023.

A select number of WAVE scholarships are awarded each year to students across the state who demonstrate excellence in career-centered coursework, according to the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board website.

Chavez Lara will have an opportunity to share his CWU experiences with a statewide audience on Thursday, February 15, when he is the featured guest for the WAVE Scholars and Workforce Board meeting. He will join the call via Zoom and tell the audience in Olympia and around the state how the WAVE Scholarship has helped advance his educational goals.

“The WAVE Scholarship is what made it possible for me to come to CWU, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here,” he says through CWU interpreter Katherine DeWitt. “At first, it was a little bit intimidating because it was all new and I didn’t know many people. But after being here for a few months, I have found the people on campus to be very welcoming. It’s been a really great experience.”

jesus-chavez-lara-4.jpgAs CWU looks to grow its recently introduced Deaf Studies program — the only one of its kind in the state — Chavez Lara offers a valuable perspective to the field in that he is trilingual, able to speak Spanish, American Sign Language (ASL), and English.

He admits he does not know which of the three languages he learned first, since he was around ASL throughout his childhood. Chavez Lara has four sisters and two brothers; two of his sisters are also deaf and attended the Washington School for the Deaf.

“I was born deaf and grew up using hearing aids to help me be able to hear,” says Chavez Lara, who identifies as Mexican-American. “That caused some linguistic delays. I moved into an elementary school program that had a teacher for the deaf. That really inspired me because she taught all the subjects I wanted using both American Sign Language and English. I realized I wanted to become someone like her, and so that brought me here to get a major in education.”

Chavez Lara regards his elementary school teachers, Leah Piskel and Amber Havers, as the mentors who inspired him to teach other deaf students. Now, he is taking the next step in his educational journey on a university campus.

“This is my first opportunity to get involved in an ASL class,” says Chavez Lara, who grew up in Pasco. “I'm learning so much more about the history that I never even knew before. Also, I'm involved in ASL Club, and I love helping other students by teaching them ASL as well.

Chavez Lara says he hopes his career choice will inspire other deaf people while also helping them improve their communication skills. Beyond his desire to become an educator, Chavez Lara expresses himself through music. He is a violinist who plays primarily classical music and has also played modern music, such as “Save Your Tears” by The Weeknd and Ariana Grande, and “We Don't Talk About Bruno” from Encanto.

Chavez Lara played violin for more than nine years in school, eventually taking part in competitions. Although, when he first started, he did not know if he would be able to perform.


“One of my friends forced me to go and start playing, and after that, I just fell in love with it,” he says. “And regardless of whether or not I can hear it, I can feel the vibrations on my chest and through my body.”

Chavez Lara explains that he uses a tuner to tell him exactly which note he is playing. He tells a story of playing first-chair violin and performing a solo with the entire orchestra.

“That was shocking to me, because I didn't think that could ever happen.”

He points to Chiawana High School orchestra teacher Lauren Edmondson as someone who believed in his ability to play violin, adding that he may eventually pursue a career in music education, depending on how his higher education path plays out.

During his high school years, Chavez Lara expressed himself in other ways by participating in ASL storytelling competitions. During his last year of high school, he competed as part of a group and placed fifth.

“I practiced for quite a while, and then we went to Puyallup, and that's where I won second place on my own,” he says.

jesus-chavez-lara-3.jpgBeyond Chavez Lara's involvement in deaf studies and the ASL club, he works part time as an online ASL teacher via Zoom.
“I have a variety of students all over the United States, and I love it,” he says. “I love my ability to express the importance of facial expression, and just dive into it.” 

Chavez Lara talks about landing his virtual teaching opportunity at a Washington State Association for the Deaf event. He explains that he met the CEO of Visually Speaking in person, and she shared the details about her business.

“I thought that was interesting and I said, ‘well, I'll think about applying for a job,’ and she said, ‘well, actually, you're hired,’” Chavez Lara recalls, adding that he was nervous at first, but now he can’t wait to continue teaching classes.

Now that he has become immersed in the coursework and culture at CWU, Chavez Lara says he looks forward to continuing this work and becoming an elementary school teacher for deaf children after graduation.

He says he will go wherever there is a need for deaf education, based on how many deaf children live in a certain area and need support.

“They would need to want to be supportive of me as well, as the deaf teacher,” he says. “I would want them to feel safe, and I would like to not be alone, because I understand their situation as deaf kids, being alone or that one alone person in a hearing family.”

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