by Nancy Vessell
Editor's Note: Reprinted from the Feburary, 1996, issue of the Braille Monitor, this article first appeared in the Jefferson City, Missouri, News Tribune on Sunday, January 15, 1995. It is an interesting accompaniment to the preceding story by Betty Walker. Here it is:
David Rice and his teacher, Betty Walker, were recallingthe coloring book she'd made earlier in the year for David's classmates.
David had almost forgotten it, then was struck with anidea: "You can come over to my house, and we can color it."
Mrs. Walker responded: "But David, neither of us can see the lines."
The boy and his teacher are blind-a trait not conducive to coloring. But at East Elementary School, where the two work together, it was just a temporary setback. A teacher's aide assigned to David, Carol Bange, offered to outline the lines in the coloring book with a sticky material they could feel.
David is in the fourth grade, where most of his time isspent alongside sixteen other students learning things like multiplication, electromagnetics, and basic economics from their teacher, Deann Branson.
However, for an hour each day, David leaves hisclassmates to work with Mrs. Walker on his Braille lessons.
David, the son of Jill Speckhals of Jefferson City and Boyd Rice of Ashland, was born blind. The condition is total; he can't even distinguish sunlight and shadows.
Until this year David was educated at the Missouri Schoolfor the Blind in St. Louis. He lived at the school during the school year, returning home on weekends and during summers.
But last year his mother decided to enroll him in publicschool here.
"He was ready to come home. In the past he had never complained about going to school down there. But he came of the age that he realized there were other kids. And he wanted to come home and be with Mom," Mrs. Speckhals said.
So for the first time twelve-year-old David entered aschool in his hometown. To accommodate his special needs, the Jefferson City School District hired Mrs. Walker as a Braille aide to spend a couple of hours each day helping David read and write Braille and transcribing some of his lessons into Braille.
At the beginning of the school year, Mrs. Walker visitedall the classes in the school to explain what it's like to be blind, using the coloring book she'd made for illustration.
Mrs. Walker, who was blinded at age twenty-one bydiabetes, is the first Missourian to pass the National Literary Braille Competency Test from the Library of Congress. She's a volunteer with the National Federation of the Blind.
She's the first blind aide to be hired by the school district.Linda Tetley, the principal at East, noted that if Mrs. Walker hadn't been available, the school probably would have had to send a teacher to the School for the Blind to learn Braille.
"I was glad to have the opportunity to help David andgive him a role model. He may feel like he's the only one here," Mrs. Walker said.
One day last week in a corner of the art room, Mrs.Walker and David took turns reading paragraphs in a Braille book, Paddle to the Sea. Mrs. Bange read along in a picture book, helping with difficult words David encountered.
"...he had escaped Lake Superior's icy waters and violent storms," David read.When they completed a chapter, Mrs. Bange described for David and Mrs. Walker the book's picture of a stormy sea and a small boat tethered to the land by a cable.
An especially inquisitive child, David wanted to knowwhether the cable was attached to a pulley and what a buoy looks like. He also demanded information from the reporter observing him-what was she reporting, why, who would be reading the story, and whether being in the newspaper was like being on "Rod's Big Ole Fish" on TV.
After David and Mrs. Walker worked on Braille, theypicked up their canes and headed to different parts of the school-David joined the rest of his class, and Mrs. Walker spent about an hour transcribing some of his classroom lessons into Braille.
To do that, she listened to a tape on which David's lessons were dictated by Mrs. Bange. For other assignments requiring a pair of eyes, Mrs. Bange works directly with David.
On that day Mrs. Branson was working with the class onmultiplication, while Mrs. Bange and David discussed the problems quietly at a table along the side of the room.
To figure twenty-three times three, David insisted onadding three twenty-three's in his head, arguing that he could do it faster that way. "When I add, it relieves my fear that we won't get it done," he told her.
Mrs. Bange tried to explain that he needed to learn theprocess of multiplying. Meanwhile Mrs. Branson's class went on to seventeen times four.
Mrs. Branson said having a special aide for David is necessary so he doesn't take much of her time from the otherstudents.
For things that can't be put into Braille, like maps andgraphs, Mrs. Bange uses raised paint or a sticky material so David can feel the outlines.
David's fingers nimbly moved along the painted outlinesof a map as he named all of the central states, only momentarily mixing up Kentucky and Tennessee. "Here's the Bootheel. What's in the Bootheel?" he wanted to know.
Although he has his own aide and some special materials, David "fits in like any other student," Mrs. Branson said.
She noted that at the beginning of the year some ofDavid's classmates went overboard in trying to help him find his desk or his tote bag or walk down the hall.
"At first, they tried to baby him. We had to explain thathe's just as capable-he just can't see," Mrs. Branson said.
His classmates elected David to the Student Council afterhe delivered a speech that, among other things, promised a pursuit of new playground equipment.
One classmate, Darrell Robinson, said he likes David inhis class. "He likes playing eight-square. It's fun having him around."
Darrell said students sometimes forget David is blind,and he has to ask them to scoot up so he can get by in the lunchroom.
David said he'd gotten tired of living in a dormitory atschool and wanted to stay home. "I'd do just about anything to come here," he said.
Mrs. Speckhals, his mother, said she thinks that beingaround sighted children has spurred David to assume more responsibilities.
"I think he'll mature quite a bit. He'll realize thatother kids don't have someone to guide them around," she said.
A few problems had to be worked out at school, she said.David had to learn to speak in the classroom only after raising his hand. Previously, he'd been in a classroom with only three other children, so raising hands wasn't necessary.
Several partially blind students have been enrolled inthe school district, but David now is the only totally blind student, said Arthur Allen, the district's director of special education.
"The mother came to us in May and said she wanted him inthe public schools. That's a bit of a challenge to work through. You're never quite sure whether it's appropriate, but it's her right to have him in school," Allen said.
He added: "It's worked out better than any of us everthought it would. He's assimilated much faster than anticipated. That's because he's determined. He has a lot of spunk."
Mrs. Walker said assimilating David into a classroom withsighted children helps him face realities.
"When kids with a certain disability are isolated, they don't get into the real world. They won't ever have the experience of being made fun of. He'll have to learn that because he will be part of the real world," she said.
She said she finds him a challenge to work with. "He'skind of a charmer. He tries to charm his way out of things." Then, making note of his appearance, Mrs. Walker said: "I hear he's a cute kid."