Bend High senior finds purpose in signing

Sunny Redinger defies odds, heads to college

By Megan Kehoe / The Bulletin

Published Jan 22, 2014 at 12:01AM

Sunny Redinger

Bend High School senior

Age: 17

Favorite Movie: “The Butterfly Effect”

Favorite TV Show: “Game of Thrones”

Favorite Book: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Favorite Music: Lydia

Sunny Redinger didn’t expect to find her calling the first day of class at Bend High last year.

Maybe it was because she’d been in six foster homes since her freshman year of high school, or maybe it was because she’d bounced between three high schools prior to Bend High, but Sunny didn’t have high hopes for the first day of class at her new high school.

But then, Sunny stepped into the American Sign Language studies classroom, and something changed.

“The first day in sign language class, we were asked to finger spell the alphabet,” Sunny, 17, said. “I was the one who did it the fastest. I felt so accomplished after that. I loved signing from then on.”

Sunny, now a senior at Bend High, said she found her purpose that day in class. It gave her a reason to keep coming to school, a reason to focus on her studies, and most recently, a reason to go to college. Despite coming from a difficult background, Sunny is defying the odds and will be attending Western Oregon University this fall after she graduates high school.

“Going to college is huge,” Sunny said.

“Not too many people in my family have gone. I think I’m so driven because I don’t want to end up like my parents — with nothing. I always want to better myself and improve,” she said.

Originally from the Salem area, Sunny has been in foster homes since she was 6 years old after she said her mother became addicted to drugs. She was in the state system up until two years ago when she moved to Bend to live with her aunt and uncle. Now, with a more stable home life, she’s been able to focus on her grades and on her future.

Her GPA has gone up more than half a point in the last two years, thanks in part to the sign language class she signed up for her junior year of high school.

“I’m terrible at talking to people,” Sunny said. “Signing is so much easier. I like that it’s quiet.”

But while Sunny found a new passion, the class still presented her with challenges.

“She came up to me after class saying that she didn’t want to sign in front of the other students,” Arlan Howard, Sunny’s sign language teacher, said through an interpreter. “But I told her that everyone had to, and that it wasn’t fair to the other students if she didn’t. Everyone was scared to do that, not just her. So I told her she could stay in the class and sign or she could drop it.”

Sunny took Howard’s suggestion seriously and decided to stick with the class. Even though she had trouble making eye contact at the beginning, she kept going until it became easier, and until she overcame her shy nature.

Now, with her natural signing skill, Howard says she helps other students in class learn the language. Next year, Sunny plans to major in American Sign Language studies. She wants to be a court interpreter, or perhaps an interpreter at a school.

Howard said that in his seven years at Bend High, Sunny has been one of his most memorable students because of her perseverance.

“She’s been one of my best students,” Howard said. “She’s touched my heart.”

Outside of school, Sunny works hard as well. She has a part-time job with Remington Real Estate, where she cleans vacation rentals to save money for college. In her spare time, she says she likes to spend time with her pet cat and snake. She describes herself as a “crazy cat lady.”

Sunny, who is currently applying for scholarships to help pay for her secondary education, said she will continue to work hard, both in college and beyond.

“I don’t like failing,” Sunny said. “I feel like I have something to prove. I want to show my parents that I can do things the right way.”

— Reporter; 541-383-0354, mkehoe@bendbulletin.com