Editor’s Note, Nov. 4: Contact information has been updated to current ASL club sponsors. The original article listed Ms. Powell as the contact person, but she no longer works at OHS. Also, the article now specifies what time meetings are on Tuesdays.
There are six sign language interpreters at Oswego High School: five as full-time interpreters here, and one who works part-time at Traughber. One of these six interpreters is Stacey Borrego, a graduate of Waubonsee Community College.
As a sign language interpreter, Borrego is there as a means of communication between students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their teachers, without altering or guiding what students are trying to convey in any way.
“I’m facilitating the language between the teachers and the deaf students,” Borrego says.
As an interpreter, she is working for both students and teachers. For instance, she will speak to share a student’s response or question to a teacher. If a teacher wants to communicate with a student, she will sign what the teacher has said to the student.
In her day-to-day routine, Borrego goes through the school day interpreting in a variety of classes.
According to Borrego, classes to interpret could vary from engineering, to calculus, to AP Anatomy. She finds each day exciting because she can learn from the different classes her students are involved in.
Her inspiration to begin her career as a sign language interpreter started around the end of her high school career.
“When I was probably about your age, there was a deaf lady I met at the church I was going to and she started teaching there,” Borrego says. “I started going and became friends with her, and that just sparked my interest.” As a teenager, Borrego found the inspiration to pursue a career in sign language, but she didn’t stop there. After being homeschooled, Borrego started a two-year sign language interpreting program at WCC from 1991-1992. One year and a half into her education, she put it on hold and lived and traveled with a group of eight deaf people and two other hearing people with the Deaf Opportunity Outreach for about a year.
After her time traveling, Borrego took a long break to get married and raise her children. Borrego finished her last year at WCC in 2009 and started interpreting at Burlington Central from 2010-2011. In 2011, Borrego joined OHS as a full-time interpreter and started interpreting part-time at WCC in 2015-2016.
Although the Deaf Opportunity Outreach organization is no longer in service, Borrego believes it was one of the significant impacts that caused her to learn American Sign Language (ASL) so quickly and fluently.
“I think it’s like any language; how much time you apply yourself to it and immerse yourself to it,” Borrego says.
Over time, sign language became a second, and sometimes first, instinct as a means of communication.
“There were a couple times I came home for Christmas for a visit, and there was one morning my mom asked me a question, and I answered her, and she asked me again, and I answered her, and she said, ‘Stacey I don’t know sign language, can you voice it for me?’” Borrego says. “But in my mind, I thought I was telling her because I was so immersed in the language.”
Now a full-time interpreter at OHS, Borrego’s favorite part of her job is seeing her students succeed.
“Seeing them really understand a concept or overcome a hurdle, whatever it is in that class…there have been some really really shy kids that blossom and really start making friends and just succeed,” Borrego says.
According to Borrego, the role of sign language interpreters may be misunderstood by how often they are confused as teaching assistants. With this common misunderstanding, Borrego believes students may need more exposure to sign language interpreting jobs to gauge more interest in the career.
“I don’t know if we really need recognition but I think it’s awesome to…have more exposure to it and maybe recognition to the deaf [students],” Borrego says. “Maybe if more students knew about sign language interpreters maybe there would be more interest to go into that field and reach out to befriend deaf kids.”
Borrego wants students to know with varying students and classes, every day is different as a sign language interpreter.
“It’s a very rewarding job; you’re learning something new everyday,” Borrego says. “I don’t feel like I work. I wake up every morning and I feel like I get to go have fun.”
Borrego enjoys her job not just because of the learning she gets to experience, but the perspectives she gets to be involved in.
“When you interpret for someone, I think it’s a gift…you’re walking into their world and so you’re not taking over and telling them what to do so you’re just facilitating the language,” Borrego says. “You’re giving them an opportunity, whatever that situation is, to succeed.”
If you feel the same interest to learn about ASL like Borrego, you can join the ASL club and contact ASL Club sponsor Karliene Pfalzgraf at firstname.lastname@example.org or Co-sponsor Kris MacDonald at email@example.com. Meetings are every Tuesday after school from 2:35 – 3:30 pm in room 117 and everyone is welcome.
My name is Trinity Heard, I am a Senior at Oswego High School, and this is my second year writing for 42Fifty. I am very excited to continue working with the team and help other learn more about journalism. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, baking, and editing. I also am a part of the Student Council as President and work as a crew member at Culvers. I look forward to being involved in 42Fifty as a managing editor for this year.