For many Deaf students, not even their families know sign language. This can leave
them feeling isolated and lonely. But homeschool graduate Chelsey Cahilly is working
hard to make a difference in these students’ lives. Find out how on
today’s Homeschool Heartbeat.
Mike Smith: My guest today is Chelsey
Cahilly. She’s a homeschool graduate who works as a high school sign
language interpreter. Chelsey, it’s great to have you on the program today.
Chelsey Cahilly: It’s so great to be here, thanks for
“I was hooked” [0:30]
Mike: Chelsey, tell us about the day you decided to become
an ASL interpreter and what does that mean?
Chelsey: ASL stands for American sign language. My
neighbor worked at this school for the Deaf, and one day when I was about 16 she
invited me to come to work with her just to see what she did. And I had kind of
dabbled in learning sign language before, but I hadn’t been really serious. And
at the time, I hadn’t known what I wanted to do with the rest of my
life—but when I walked in those doors, and I just saw
everybody’s hands flying all around and people were talking but not using
sound, that was the moment that I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,
and I was hooked.
Mike: So what are you actually doing today, then?
Chelsey: I am interpreting in a high school.
Mike: Okay, and so do you go there like a teacher every day,
Chelsey: Yep, I’m full time. I work from eight in the
morning until three in the afternoon.
Mike: Now is this a regular school or is this a Deaf
Chelsey: No, this is a mainstream, normal high school and we
have about 25 Deaf kids that are within the school.
Mike: Okay, great. Are you seeing some good progress?
Chelsey: Yeah! I love what I do and I think that the kids
really benefit from the program.
Cross-country learning [1:43]
Mike: Chelsey, you were homeschooled all the way through
high school. What was that like?
Chelsey: Really, it was fantastic, because I really
appreciate the flexibility and the independence that homeschooling afforded
me. Looking back, it’s really amazing that I was able to work at my own pace
and just be involved in extracurricular activities like drama troupes and choirs. And
we were able to tour the country and stuff—you know, not your normal school
schedule. And I guess we just loved having the ability to have one-on-one support
from my teachers, be that my mom or people who were teaching co-ops I was in.
Mike: So, did homeschooling give you an opportunity to
develop these skills that you’re using now, in terms of interpreting?
Chelsey: Yes, actually. I was able to dictate my own
schedule, and so I was able to actually start college in high school. And I guess
that gave me a leg up when I began my degree program. And also to be an interpreter,
you have to be able to interact with people of all ages and backgrounds. And I think
because I was out and experiencing, probably a little more than my public school
counterparts who were spending time in a classroom with people who were the same age
from the same town, same demographic—I think that really helped me prepare for
my job today as an interpreter, because I really have to be creative and think on my
feet and be self-driven and I think I have all those qualities today because I was
Mike: Sounds like you might have a little homeschooler there
in your home, is that right?
Chelsey: I have two little homeschoolers in my home right
Impacting students’ lives [3:13]
Mike: Chelsey, what are the biggest challenges you face as a
high school sign language interpreter?
Chelsey: I think that the hardest thing for me is when
teachers seem to not put as much effort into educating their students as I hope they
would. Now don’t get me wrong, the public school system is full of excellent
teachers who are really passionate about what they do, but there are still those who
I guess try to get by on the bare minimum. And that really frustrates me, because
it’s the kids who suffer.
And I also think that inflexibility of the system and the bureaucracy that I see
hampers some kids. Of course, there is a struggle that every interpreter faces, which
is when I have to interpret information that I don’t believe or that I think is
incorrect, but that’s just part of the job.
Mike: Well, tell us, there must be some rewarding parts of
your job as well, right?
Chelsey: Oh, absolutely. I love the fact that every day I
can go into work and know that I’m making a difference in the lives
of students. And I know that sounds corny, but it’s true because a lot of these
kids, they come from homes where their families [and] their parents don’t know
sign language. And I know that’s shocking, but it’s a true demographic
across Deaf kids and they can feel really isolated. So to be able to provide them
communication access is a real privilege and I don’t take that lightly.
Mike: How do they treat you as a homeschool graduate? Do they
know you didn’t go the regular way with schooling?
Chelsey: Well, it’s funny, because one of the other
teachers that I work with was actually homeschooled, which is something that I never
see. She’s about my age.
I don’t know. I get ribbed sometimes, like “Oh, you’re just
saying that because you’re a homeschooler.” But I mean, people are
usually pretty impressed, I guess.
I remember back when we were a kid and we were in the elevator. You know, people
would see us and [say], “Why aren’t you in school?” “Oh,
we’re homeschooled.” And then people would be like “Is that
legal?” You know, I think it’s not like that anymore. People are a little
more acclimated to us.
Just being a friend [4:58]
Mike: Chelsey, how have you been able to make a difference
in the lives of these students you work with?
Chelsey: Well, something that I really try to do for these
kids is to just be human to them. You know, the freshmen, they’re nervous,
they’ve never been in such a big school, they forget their locker combination,
you know. Meanwhile, the seniors are overwhelmed with the thought they are on the
brink of adulthood and they don’t know how to pay for car insurance, they
don’t even know what Social Security is. So I guess when it’s appropriate
I try to answer the questions they have about real life. And I know that not
everyone’s willing to do that which is fine and I respect other
interpreters’ philosophies—that’s okay. But you have to realize
that they do have this language barrier at home with their parents who don’t
know ASL, so they really don’t have anyone else to ask these questions, who can
describe things for them in their native language. So I really think that they
appreciate it, and when they come up to me and they show me their college acceptance
letters, or after they graduate I see them on Facebook and they are going on to be
successful—that’s where it’s really rewarding for me and I’m
proud to be able to say that I was their interpreter in high school.
Mike: It kind of sounds like you’re doing a lot of
parenting there, though.
Chelsey: Well, I wouldn’t like to say that, but I am
part of a support system, you know, and we all work together as a team to help these
kids be as successful as they can be.
Developing empathy [6:17]
Mike: Chelsey, why is it important for homeschoolers to be
involved in public service, in your opinion?
Chelsey: Well, I think that everyone has the ability to
affect their world for good and one of the best ways to do that is to get involved in
public service. You’ll meet people you wouldn’t have otherwise.
You’ll get great experience and exposure, and at the same time you will be able
to develop almost an empathy that you didn’t have before for people. Also,
it’s always wonderful for people to see homeschoolers active in the public
sector because we can all get tired of breaking any preconceived stigma that people
might still associate with homeschooling in general. We might be able to do school in
our pajamas, but we’re still normal people.
Mike: Well I like that, but do you have any advice for
homeschoolers who want to get involved or parents who want to give their children
opportunities outside the home?
Chelsey: Absolutely, and I would say it’s one word:
volunteer. I think it’s a great way to get your foot in the door if
you’re hoping for a future career in public service. I mean that’s how I
got my first job in a school—it was after I volunteered there a number of years
and then a position opened up and I was a natural choice. So I would just say contact
whatever local entity you want to become involved in, because volunteers are always
Mike: Well, Chelsey, that’s great advice, especially
for homeschoolers to be able to get involved outside the home—I completely
agree with you. It’s been such a privilege having you on the show
this week, and thank you for joining us and sharing your story. And until
next time, I’m Mike Smith.