Future Reflections                                                                                           Convention 2004

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The Most Important Transition of All

by Serena Cucco

Serena Cucco
Serena Cucco

Editor’s Note: When I asked Serena Cucco of New Jersey to be on the student and parent panel, I told her the theme was “transitions” but otherwise, pretty much left the content of her speech up to her. I’m glad I did. As I reflected on what she chose to talk about, I realized that Serena is a shining example of the power of the “It’s up to me” mentality which Elliott so eloquently described in her keynote speech earlier that day (see the article, “The Essence of Education is Repetition” elsewhere in this issue). What I learned from Serena’s speech is that children who adopt the “It’s up to me” approach not only learn to do for themselves, they learn to do for others. That, it seems to me, is the most important transition of all.

Serena, by the way, is the blind daughter of Carol Castellano, a frequent contributor over the years to Future Reflections, the co-author of the much-acclaimed book, The Bridge to Braille, and, well, you can read more about Carol in her biography elsewhere in this issue. A 2003 high school graduate, Serena has not let the fame of being the focus of many articles and speeches over the years spoil her. She has grown into a thoughtful, caring young woman with a passion for justice. Here are Serena’s remarks from the 2003 NFB parent’s seminar:

Imagine a blind twelve-year-old girl new to this country from Central America. She has never gone to school. Her parents couldn’t afford the school for the blind in their country. She doesn’t know how to read. She knows no English. Two years ago my Braille teacher introduced me to this girl and asked me if I would like to work with her. I was particularly suited to the job because I speak Spanish and can write both English and Spanish in Braille.

Once a week, Kency and her mother came to my house where I mentored her in reading, Braille, and speaking English. I introduced her to typical American snacks such as brownies and Goldfish. (I think she ate them just to be polite.) I translated for her and for our two mothers. She enjoyed practicing her letters on my Braille Lite, which I’m using right now to give my speech. I also wrote sentences for her to read in Spanish and English. It was challenging to think of sentences that were simple in both languages. During this school year, I went to Kency’s middle school where I mentored and tutored her under a program called Student Volunteers. I helped her with her homework, taught her how to set up math problems in Braille, and Brailled worksheets for her. I also put in several hours a week Brailling a novel for her.

[Editor’s note: Think about the time commitment involved here. Almost every week for over two years she meets to tutor this girl, then she gives up more time to Braille a book for her. Serena doesn’t say it, but I suspect that she had to customize the Braille as she transcribed the book.]

Kency has made much progress since she came to this country. Her reading and English have improved dramatically. I treasure my work with her because it highlights three of my most cherished values: education, equal opportunity for all people, and full inclusion in American culture for all who chose to make the United States their home. First, my efforts enabled her to receive an appropriate education and to enjoy equal opportunity. My tutoring gave her two more Braille lessons a week that she wouldn’t have had otherwise. Without an appropriate education Kency wouldn’t have an opportunity to attend college and enjoy a fulfilling career, and without equal opportunity, Kency wouldn’t be able to aspire to her dreams. I strongly believe that people of other cultures deserve the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of American society. I believe through exposing her to our culture (like eating American foods) and helping her learn the language quickly, I have helped her to be included in all aspects of American life.

Throughout our lives we all make transitions in different areas. Kency, her teachers, and I made several key transitions. The first two transitions that Kency made were going to school, which she had never done before, and learning a new language. Throughout her three years at school Kency has gotten acquainted with new foods, an important transition for people from another culture. Now she loves potato chips and eats them all the time! More importantly, Kency learned how to use a white cane and how to read Braille. Last, but certainly not least, Kency learned that she can be independent and has gained the opportunity to do things that she would never have done without these blindness skills. Kency’s teachers made transitions too. First, they learned Braille while Kency learned it. Later, they learned how to use technology and equipment so they could Braille worksheets and other materials for her. Most importantly, they realized that Kency should be, and could be, independent.

When my mom tells people about my work with Kency she often says that she dropped off a high school student and picked up a teacher. I will also carry the lessons I learned from my work with Kency into my future. As I transition from high school to the next adventure in my life, college, I hope to continue to change the public’s attitude about blindness, as an activist in the National Federation of the Blind. I also hope to be an activist in helping give other disadvantaged people the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I hope I will be able to use my education and my talents to make the world a better place.

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