Future Reflections         Fall 2009

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by Tammy Raulerson

Tacey Raulerson on horseback, holding a flag and dressed in rodeo queen costume. She wears a cowboy hat and a pink pageant sash over a pink western shirt.From the Editor: Many parents think long and hard about whether to send a child to a local school or to a residential school for the blind. Tammy Raulerson describes how her family resolved the dilemma by combining public school with a part-time residential program.

My child goes to boarding school.

Yes, I know the correct term is residential school. The one who started calling it boarding school was my daughter Tacey. As she was preparing to go to the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) she thought it was funny to tell everyone that we were sending her to boarding school. She liked people's reactions. The news was such a shock to people when they heard it!

Tacey is a typical nine-year-old girl, but two things set her apart from the other children in our neighborhood. For one thing, Tacey is blind. For another, she is a rodeo queen.

 Tacey was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma when she was seven months old. Retinoblastoma is a rare form of cancer that attacks the retinas of young children. The term "bilateral" means that the cancer developed in both of Tacey's eyes. By the time she was seven years old Tacey's eyes had been removed to prevent the cancer from spreading.

Most of us agree that we live in an incredible country that affords us many opportunities and advantages. But for someone with a disability this isn't always the case. Though there has been much progress over the years, we still have a long way to go. It disturbs me whenever people stare at us in public. Some folks even follow us around and take pictures of Tacey. Sometimes they are excited because they recognize her from the media. Mostly, however, they are simply fascinated by seeing a blind child. Some days this is challenging to me as a parent! I want to shield my child from the curious stares.

Tacey entered public school as soon as she turned three. She had three full years of public school before she lost her vision. Once she lost her second eye, we started to look at everything in a different way.

I am a teacher. I have taught many children with special needs, although I never had a blind student in any of my classes. My teaching experience showed me how difficult life can be for any child who is coddled or not held to high standards. I taught too many students, both "special needs" and "regular education" children, whose parents did everything for them. These children couldn't care for themselves without constant guidance. Some children in regular education could not even fix lunch or do laundry by the time they went to high school. Now that is scary! I wanted my child to succeed in life! I wanted her to feel she could accomplish anything she chose, and to be self-sufficient in every way possible.

When Tacey lost her sight my husband Michael and I had to decide on the best school placement for her. Because of my teaching experience and Tacey's intelligence, we felt that she should stay in the local school district. We wanted Tacey to be successful in the real world, and to us the real world meant public school.

Tacey attends a public school in our neighborhood. In fact, it is the school where I taught for many years. A lot of the teachers have known Tacey since before she was born. We are very fortunate that the school district personnel go out of their way to make sure Tacey gets the education she needs. She participates fully in everything along with her classmates. She is enrolled in a class for gifted and talented students, and she takes part in extracurricular activities including choir, cheerleading, and University Interscholastic League Competitions. She is very successful in school.

However, Tacey is the only blind child in our area. After she lost her sight she rarely encountered other blind children except at a summer camp at TSBVI. Having taught so many children with special needs and seeing Tacey interact with other blind students at camp, I knew she needed to be around other blind people at times. She also needed the intense training that could occur at a special school. However, her success in regular school meant that residential school was not the best placement for her year-round.

When Tacey attended summer camp at TSBVI, we learned that the school offered special sessions throughout the year. Local school districts can register blind and visually impaired students to attend these sessions. Sessions take place every other month and are scheduled for a week or a weekend. During these sessions, the children live in a dorm on campus, attend classes to help them hone their skills, and do their classwork from the public school. When we asked Tacey if she would be interested, she loved the idea! Her experience at camp convinced her that she would like to be part of the residential school culture on a short-term basis.

The program at TSBVI meets a need for Tacey that cannot be met in the public school. She is immersed in a unique society of blind and visually impaired children where she is never set apart from the rest. She is just one more student, rather than the only blind student. The program provides intensive training in Braille, keyboarding, and technology skills that she does not receive in our neighborhood school. This training strengthens those skills without sacrificing her academics. All of the academic work from her regular classroom is sent with her to be completed in her spare time. This arrangement allows her to stay current with her public-school classmates.

When we asked Tacey if she wanted to be a full-time student at TSBVI she was quick to tell us, "NO!" Michael and I agree that she does not need to attend TSBVI full time. We believe strongly that she should be educated in the least restrictive environment. As long as she is successful and happy, she will remain in public school. With the special program at TSBVI, Tacey gets the best of two worlds. She lives at home and attends public school with all of her sighted friends, but for a short time each month she has the chance to belong to a group of blind students.

Tacey's position as a rodeo queen presents another set of challenges. Her full title is Miss Tough Enough to Wear Pink Four States Rodeo Queen. She represents cancer survivors in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Wrangler launched the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign in 2000. Tacey travels all over the United States to make special appearances at rodeos and other events. She appears with Miss Rodeo Texas, Miss Rodeo Texas Teen, and Miss Rodeo America, as well as many other queens. She has appeared at the National Finals Rodeo and the Miss Rodeo America Pageant. She rides in limousines and gets special seats at concerts.

We have to be very careful to keep Tacey's personal and public lives separate. Because she gets so much media attention, spends time with celebrities, and receives such a variety of extra benefits, some of her classmates started to treat her like a celebrity. They didn't want to play with her as a friend; they wanted to pump her for news about people she met and special things she did. When she is with her friends Tacey tries to keep quiet about her life as a rodeo queen. She doesn't mind being a celebrity when we are traveling, but when we are back home she wants to be just one of the kids.

Michael and I love going places with Tacey. Her amazing sense of humor and her zest for life bring us so much joy! When she is away for sessions at TSBVI we miss her terribly.

Going through all we have been through together has made me a better person and a better parent. I wouldn't have asked for this, but it has brought me some incredible experiences. No matter what happens, I know that Tacey will live life to the fullest. She will persevere and accomplish anything she sets her mind on. Her strong will and stubborn streak will get her through any hardships that life tries to throw at her!

Tacey touches many lives every day. It is impossible for us to go anywhere without someone feeling the impact of her joyful spirit. We thank TSBVI and College Station Intermediate School District for helping us raise such a successful and happy child!

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