Giving a voice to children

Messenger photo by Andrew Sharp
Heidi Kinnamon uses sign language to communicate with third-grade student Casey King.

Many people tend to talk with their hands, but most don’t actually learn to communicate completely without using their voices. 

Heidi Kinnamon, however, has mastered that way of talking. 

Kinnamon, a sign language interpreter for Bexley City Schools, is passionate about signing, using her skills to help third-grader Casey King communicate in school and teach Casey’s classmates about sign language. 

Kinnamon translates English into American Sign Language for Casey, who is deaf. Casey has to work harder than most other third graders because she has to be bilingual. 

Sign language, Kinnamon explains, is not English, although many people think it is. It has its own grammar and structure, and she has to translate the English spoken by teachers into sign language, and vice versa.

"An individual who communicates through American Sign Language, when they read English, it’s a foreign language, and that’s a pretty complicated thing for someone at any age," says Frances Bauer Morrow, director of Special Education at Bexley schools.

Kinnamon sits in classes with Casey and signs everything the teacher says to her.  When Casey signs, Kinnamon voices what she said so other people understand. 

Whether it’s art, music, gym or the library, Kinnamon is there, giving Casey both ears and a voice.  They are even working on a third language together, Spanish.

Kinnamon’s presence in the classroom also gives the other students at Cassingham Elementary a chance to learn.  They become familiar with sign language and the role of interpreters, Bauer Morrow says, and get used to another way of communicating, seeing it as a normal part of the day.
Working as an interpreter is something Kinnamon has wanted to do since she was young, she says. 

She was inspired in part by the story of Helen Keller and was interested in sign language. 

"I had a book and I knew a lot of words.  I didn’t put them together correctly, but I had a lot of vocabulary, and a very strong desire to learn," she says. "It’s just what I was meant to do … just who I am."

She has put a lot of effort into her dream. In addition to owning a degree in interpreting, she recently passed a difficult test to get national certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. The Bexley school district recognized her achievement by presenting her with a Star Thrower Award at a recent board meeting.

Her abilities have made a difference in the lives of the people she works with.  Casey’s father, Tom King, points to the way Kinnamon has helped Casey develop her competitive nature. 

"(She’s) always told her she can pretty much do anything she wants," he said.     
According to Casey, those goals include becoming a preschool teacher and a cheerleader at Ohio State.

She describes Kinnamon’s ability as an interpreter glowingly, pointing out her recent award with pride.

"She’s the best interpreter," Casey says through her mom, Sondra.

"It’s a lot of work for Heidi," Sondra says.  "My child does not give her a minute’s rest, I’m pretty sure, the entire day.  I don’t know how she has enough energy to do it, and then do her other jobs … it’s amazing."

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