Juniors Kati Mansfield and Jillian Chamberlain are attending a prestigious sign language summer program

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Ever since FHC established its own American Sign Language (ASL) program, students have been jumping at the opportunity to participate in the class. Juniors Kati Mansfield and Jillian Chamberlain are both a part of the pack of students eager to learn ASL, and they have taken their passion for it to the next level. Both girls will be attending Gallaudet University, an all deaf school, over the summer in order to partake in classes taught entirely in ASL.

After searching for summer camp options, Jillian realized how uninterested she was in her options. At this time, Jillian stumbled upon Gallaudet University’s website where she discovered a program that was a perfect fit.

“I was honestly ecstatic [when I discovered I was accepted,]” Jillian said. “I most definitely did not think I’d get in. Anyone can apply and only a few would be accepted. I had to go through a Skype interview entirely in ASL and I slipped up on a couple of questions; I thought I was done for. Being accepted made me feel like my sign language skills were better than I thought.”

Of course, after finding this prestigious program, Jillian could not refrain from sharing it with a fellow passionate student.

“When Jillian found the program, she thought ‘Wow…that would be so cool,’ so she applied and she got in, and I didn’t think that that’s how it would turn out,” Kati said. “After she got accepted I thought maybe I should try too because we always do sign language things together.”

Both Kati and Jillian have been officially accepted into Gallaudet’s program, which is quite the feat given the low acceptance rates of the university. In order to be allowed to participate in the classes offered at Gallaudet, applicants must endure a Skype call with an associate from the university entirely in sign language – just to ensure the applicant is semi-fluid in ASL.

This grueling application process is only the beginning of the challenging program. While attending the university, the students must abide by a strict “no voice” policy, and must use ASL at all times.

This no-speaking policy is a bit daunting, and it will truly put both girls’ ASL skills to the test.

“I’m afraid that I won’t be able to keep up with everyone’s signing,” Jillian said. “It’s going to be a whole new environment to adjust to. I’m hoping I can keep up with everyone else and hopefully make some friends to fall back on.”

While the environment of the program may be strenuous, both Jillian and Kati have a red-hot passion for ASL within them, making this opportunity one that is impossible to pass up.

“Freshman year I decided three things,” Jillian said. “Sign language was my favorite class, Ms. Williamson was my favorite teacher, and this was something I wanted to do with my life. It’s such a beautiful language that is very different from any other language – it’s using a whole other sense to communicate and you have to train your brain an entirely different way.”

“Freshman year I decided three things: sign language was my favorite class, Ms. Williamson was my favorite teacher, and this was something I wanted to do with my life.”

— Jillian Chamberlain

FHC ASL teacher Kimberly Williamson has taught both Jillian and Kati since their freshman year, and her impact on them has been immeasurable. Williamson has seen their accomplishments with the language and enjoys seeing them thrive.

“They are both very driven and have ASL skills that are incredible,” Williamson said. “This opportunity will be something I can’t give to them, but they know what is best for them.”

For students as passionate about ASL as Kati and Jillian, a summer program such as the one at Gallaudet’s opens infinite doors to help both girls achieve their future goals. Both are looking into applying sign language to their careers, whether that be just maintaining a memory of the language, or using it every day as an interpreter. Whatever the case, both Kati and Jillian have found a passion within the language, and while it can be grueling, there are boundless opportunities heading their way.

“I never wanted to do it because it was easy,” Kati said. “I was just always so interested in the language and I am simply interested in language in general. Words can only do so much, but you can describe with your hands.”

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