Arkansas School for the Deaf (ASD)
The Arkansas School for the Deaf (ASD), located on Markham Street in Little Rock (Pulaski County), is a publicly funded state agency that provides academic and life skills education for Arkansas students from age three to twenty-one who are deaf or hard of hearing. The school offers both residential and day-school services and includes outreach services to families and public schools.
In July 1867, the City of Little Rock opened a school for deaf children. The next year, the state government took over the struggling school, naming it “The Arkansas Deaf Mute Institute.” Ground was broken in August 1869 for a brick building, which was ready for occupancy in February 1870. By 1892, the State School for the Deaf, as it was known, was recognized as an integral part of the state’s school system. Vocational training has played a prominent role at the school from its inception. Until 1887, students were under the care of the matron and the teachers. In 1887, when the enrollment passed the 100 mark, the policy of having full-time supervisors began. A fire two years later destroyed most of the buildings; as they were not insured, it was a number of years before replacements were constructed.
For the next twenty years after the fire, the school progressed steadily. In 1923, a legislative act changed the name of the school to Arkansas School for the Deaf (ASD). Under superintendents Bess Michael Riggs, appointed in 1926, and Roy G. Parks, appointed in 1952, the number of buildings and students increased dramatically. From 1961 to 1965, almost an entirely new campus was constructed following a storm that destroyed many of the older buildings. In 1965, ASD was desegregated; from 1949 to 1965, all African-American deaf children had studied at a new school building located at 22nd and Madison streets.
A training program for teachers of the deaf was initiated in 1956 in conjunction with the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). The program was located on the campus of ASD until 1969 and offered certification to teachers of the deaf. Approximately sixty teachers were trained before the program moved to the UA campus.
Superintendent Susan Pack began the practice of sending students home every weekend on chartered buses in 1989. Prior to that year, students remained at the school most weekends, going home maybe once a month. In April 1995, Dr. Pete Seiler became the first superintendent of ASD who was deaf. He remained in the position for five and a half years. Dr. Marcella A. Dalla Rosa was named to the position of superintendent in 2003. Under her leadership, the school initiated a new Campus Life Program in 2006 to improve and enhance the quality of residential life for students. It provides tutors, mentors, and study periods to assist students in meeting their academic goals. The current superintendent is Mike Phillips.
ASD students are involved in many of the same activities as other students in the state’s school districts. There are Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops on campus. The Junior Civitan Club participates in a philanthropic activity each month. Students participate in varsity boys and girls basketball teams, football, track, volleyball, Special Olympics, and cheerleading. The enrollment in 2013 was 126. The school also features a historical museum open Monday through Thursday.
Little Rock resident Cary Tyson launched an online petition in 2016 to get the rock band Def Leppard to be photographed with students from the school, whose athletic teams are called the Leopards, when the band came to Arkansas to perform. Students and faculty met with the band at Verizon Arena (now Simmons Bank Arena) in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) when Def Leppard performed there on May 11, 2016. They posed for photographs with the band, holding a replica of the school’s scoreboard, which reads “Arkansas School for the Deaf LEOPARDS.”
For additional information:
Arkansas School for the Deaf. https://asd.ade.arkansas.gov/ (accessed May 5, 2023).
Bevill, Robert E., and Larry Vollmar. History of the Arkansas School for the Deaf (1850–1975): 125th Anniversary of Educational Services. Little Rock: Arkansas School for the Deaf, 1975.
Leopards (Yearbook for the Arkansas School for the Deaf). Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at https://cdm15728.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15728coll3/search/searchterm/bc_book__arkDeaf*/order/date/ad/asc (accessed March 30, 2022).
Riggs, Bess Michael. A Brief History of the Education of the Deaf in the State of Arkansas. Little Rock: Arkansas School for the Deaf, 1934.
Darleen Riley Tripcony
Arkansas School for the Deaf
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