Future Reflections Convention 1999, Vol. 18 No. 4

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Success Through Reading: Heather’s Story

by Marlene Culpepper

Editor’s Note: Heather Hammond, one of the participants in the 1998-1999 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest, gave a wonderful presentation to parents at the annual meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) in Atlanta this summer. I was going to reprint the essay Heather read to the NOPBC meeting, but her Braille teacher did me one better and sent me a copy of her essay which she had incorporated into the following article about Heather and her accomplishments, and so, here it is:

I am a teacher of visually impaired students in Columbus, Georgia, and I am writing to give some hope to parents, some inspiration to teachers, and to tell the story of how a Braille reader can and has ACHIEVED. This student is Heather Hammond. She is a dedicated and determined young lady who has shown us that Braille users can and should be judged against their sighted peers, and that they can excel to the top of the academic ranks. She is a shining example of what any Braille user is capable of accomplishing with the right mix of parental and academic support, and hard work on the part of the student.

Photo of Heather, her mother and Donna Jon(19593 bytes)
Pictured: from left to right: Heather
Hammond, her mother, Donna Jones, and
Barbara Cheadle.

In school, Heather does very well in all of her academic subjects and keeps up with the pace of her 5th grade regular education classroom. Heather has attended the Gifted Education Program since first grade. Her teachers in the Gifted Education Program all report that she is making excellent progress in every subject area. She has achieved Principal’s List during each six-week grading period this year and has earned many honors. She was the winner of our school’s Spelling Bee, and was named Muscogee County’s Reader of the Year for fifth and sixth grade. Heather also won first place in the Physical Science category in our school’s Science Fair and her project was named "Best of the Show." She was chosen to read the Pledge of Allegiance during this year’s career fair and has been performing in school performances. Heather’s writing was evaluated as being in the "extending stage," which is the highest rating on the Georgia Curriculum Based Writing Assessment. Heather has also participated in the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest for the past two years. This summer, Heather attended the Springer Theater Camp on a scholarship and was a presenter at the NFB National Convention in Atlanta. Here is Heather’s award-winning essay on the significance of reading in her life:

What Reading Means to Me

by Heather Hammond

Reading is fun, exciting, and full of adventure. Reading takes me places I’ve never been, lets me do things I’ve never done, and lets me discover new and interesting people. I love to read and learn new things.

Reading is fun. I’ve lived in a tree house and forgotten my manners with the Bearenstain Bears, and changed into bats and moles with the Animorphs. Reading is exciting. I’ve been chased by a toothless vampire, stalked by a ghost named Della, and solved mysteries with Nancy Drew. Reading is full of adventure. I’ve fought the British with George Washington, sailed the Atlantic Ocean with Christopher Columbus, and been on pirate raids with Sir Francis Drake. Anything is possible when you read a good book. You never know what to expect.

I’m eleven years old, and I’ve been reading most of my life. It is one of my favorite things to do. A good book lets me go places and do things all by myself without my parents tagging along. Reading is very important to me. This is what reading is all about to me.

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Heather is not alone. The other students in our VI program have achieved honor roll and won a number of awards and competitions in various academic areas. How are Heather and her peers able to do this in a regular education setting?

First, it takes a strong commitment from our students’ parents. If you think that a sighted student needs parental supervision and assistance with homework to be successful, it is imperative for a Braille user. Parents must become Braille literate in order to help their children with homework. Our parents have committed a substantial amount of time to ensure that their child is producing quality work and understands the material presented in their Braille textbooks. They have been vigilant advocates who support the inclusion of their children into the mainstream of the regular education setting by volunteering or working as paraprofessionals in our system, and by maintaining continuous contact with all of their child’s teachers. These parents are teaching their children by example and never giving up, no matter how difficult the abacus assignments are or how time-consuming the science fair project is. They are teachers in their own right and the gardeners who cultivate in their children a desire to learn and to succeed.

Our students have been blessed with an educational setting where children are expected to give their best and nothing else will do. In our school, literacy is treasured and the love of reading is promoted constantly. Our students are required to read twenty to thirty minutes a day and to keep a log of their reading which parents must sign. Twenty or thirty minutes may not sound like much, but this year alone, our school of approximately 400 students has logged over a million minutes. Our children are read to, given time to read daily, and are required to take at least 20 Accelerated Reader tests yearly. One of our Braille readers, Megan Garcia, won the Accelerated Reader Award for her fifth grade class this year.

With such demands for reading excellence, our Braille users could not excel without some creative funding for reading materials. Our school’s Braille Library currently holds over 300 Braille books for our children to enjoy and it has cost us very little money. How? It was started with a $300 gift from our school librarian’s book sale money in 1996. Then, through AFB’s Teacher Mentor Project, I was put in contact with the Temple Sisterhood Braille volunteers who were kindly willing to help us to produce literary material for free, if we provided the paper. The Columbus Lions Club provided us with all of the paper that we have needed for this endeavor. Each year they support our students with hundreds of dollars in books and paper. How did we get them to do this? We asked. Really, that’s all it took. I walked up to a Lion selling brooms outside of Sam’s and asked if they would be interested in helping us acquire books for our students and their response was overwhelming.

Finally, we have taken advantage of any free lending libraries and programs that offer free and appropriate reading materials. Some of these sources are: The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults Free Goosebumps and Baby-Sitters Club books: The National Library of Congress, Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; Seedlings; Brailleways; Lutheran Braille Workers; Kenneth Jernigan Lending Library; etc.

If you are a teacher who is having difficulty finding reading material that your students will enjoy, contact your local Lions Club, Braille Volunteer groups, The National Library of Congress, your state consultant for the Visually Impaired Program at the Department of Education, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, or get on the internet and search for resources. A vast array of Braille reading material is out there, all you have to do is look for it. We did, and look what it has done for Heather!

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