Future Reflections Summer 1996, Vol. 15 No. 3

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Support, Spunk Help Boy Best His Blindness

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 recalling

the coloring book she'd made earlier in the year for David's

classmates.

David had almost forgotten it, then was struck with an

idea: "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 is

spent 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 his

classmates 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 School

for 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 public

school 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 a

school 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 visited

all 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 by

diabetes, 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 and

give 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 know

whether 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, they

picked 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 on

multiplication, 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 on

adding 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 the

process 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 other

students.

For things that can't be put into Braille, like maps and

graphs, Mrs. Bange uses raised paint or a sticky material so

David can feel the outlines.

David's fingers nimbly moved along the painted outlines

of 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 of

David'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 that

he's just as capable-he just can't see," Mrs. Branson said.

His classmates elected David to the Student Council after

he delivered a speech that, among other things, promised a

pursuit of new playground equipment.

One classmate, Darrell Robinson, said he likes David in

his 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 at

school and wanted to stay home. "I'd do just about anything to

come here," he said.

Mrs. Speckhals, his mother, said she thinks that being

around sighted children has spurred David to assume more

responsibilities.

"I think he'll mature quite a bit. He'll realize that

other 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 in

the 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 in

the 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 ever

thought 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 with

sighted 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's

kind 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."

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