Buies Creek, N.C.—Like most students who come to college for the first time, James Kearney sat on the edge of his bed at Campbell’s Small Hall on an August day in 2009 in a state of shock. “Here I am. I’m free,” he thought, knowing that freedom for him required a lot more determination than it does for most students.
James was born deaf and physically disabled. Not only did he enter the world without the ability to hear, James was diagnosed with a birth defect, spina bifida. He can walk short distances with the aid of a crutch, but his usual means of transportation is a run-about type of scooter that gets him to class and other activities. His interpreter, Lynne Castles, translates his professor’s words into sign language that James can understand. And, with her help, James, who is 21 and a sophomore, has not only made the dean’s list twice at Campbell, but also received the John Miller Cansler Handicapped Student Scholarship award.
James’ face lights up when Castles talks of his accomplishments. He signs, “Well, my freshman year was a big challenge. I was overwhelmed. I had been sheltered from the world, but everyone here accepted me, encouraged me. I felt a lot more accepted here than at my old high school.”
Before coming to Campbell, James lived in Louisburg, N.C. and attended Louisburg High School. By the time he graduated, he was on the college bound track, but his experiences in school had not always been so positive.
When Castles met James, his mother had died and hewas living with his grandparents. An 8th grader at the time, James was in special education classes and almost unreachable. He had an interpreter, but his signing was very primitive because no one signed at home and his interpreter was not very adept. No one had been able to assess James’ innate intelligence.
At first, Castles bribed James with candy to apply himself to his studies, but it didn’t take her long to understand how smart he was. Within a period of three weeks, James showed so much progress, he was placed into his first mainstream class.
“He also had a wonderful teacher, Cathy Madden, who took a special interest in him,” said Castles. “And with Ms. Madden and me working with him, he was mainstreamed into every class by his senior year and taking college credit courses online.”
When James came to Campbell, he already had six hours of college credit.
“You have to want to learn to make that kind of progress,” Castles said.
Larry Sprunger, who taught high school math and algebra to James, also took a special interest in him, staying after class every day to tutor and mentor him. So did Judy Evaul, another of James’ high school teachers who taught him life skills. Because Evaul lost her mother at a young age too, she had a special affinity for James.
With their help and the help of his professors and friends at Campbell, James’ life is just about as normal as any other college student’s. He’s majoring in education and religion, has completed two mission trips, and just returned from a trip to the beach over spring break with his buddies.
“Campbell rocks,” he said. “There is a lot of student support. My friends are very helpful to me, and I have a whole and complete life here.”
James would like to teach other deaf students in a regular school setting when he graduates, and, according to Castles, there is nothing that James can’t do.
Photo Copy: James Kearney with his interpreter Lynne Castles