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Out of the Mouths of Babes
Alex, who attends Andy Woods Elementary School in the Tyler I.S.D., had been reading about different kinds of animals along with her classmates. Paige knew that even though Alex was acing the tests she didn’t really have the big picture. This savvy mom called the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler to request a “hands on” tour. When the public relations director discouraged her, Paige persisted. Eventually the owner not only agreed to the tour, but personally showed Alex around the zoo. He asked that they come in the morning, before the zoo opened to the public, when the animals were just waking up and still in their private areas.
Alex, her mom, and vision teacher were able to feel the ear and horn of a rhino with the help of the animal trainer. Alex explored a giraffe and trailed along its tall neck! Her face lit up when she connected the words that she previously had read to the real thing! This “aha moment” brought tears to the owner’s eyes.
This experience led to another opportunity. Alex’s unique way of learning made a profound impact on the veterinarian for exotic animals. He plans to contact Paige the next time they have to anesthetize a large animal; Alex hopes it will be an elephant!
Once again, Paige has paved the way for Alex to have the same opportunities as her classmates, by encouraging her to enter a local essay‑writing contest. The Kimberly-Clark Company, in conjunction with Brookshire Brothers grocery store, sponsored the contest. The theme was “My Favorite Teacher.” Alex entered and won! One winner was chosen from each grade level for the entire district. She selected her teacher of the visually impaired as the subject. Here is Alex’s essay:
My Favorite Teacher
My favorite teacher is Mrs. Elsie Rao. She is my visually impaired teacher. I think that she should be selected as Brookshire’s favorite teacher because she works very hard to teach me other ways to read, write, and do math. But she is so much more than that.
She helps me learn that my vision loss will not stop me from becoming a successful person. She believes in me even when I do not, and she has a very special way of describing the world to me.
Once, I asked her why some cars did not have roofs? She said, “They are called convertibles.” She just happened to own one, so she let me feel the roof go down. She said, “You really can not understand this unless you ride with the wind blowing through your hair. [Editor’s note: Of course they took a ride!]
My mom says that Mrs. Rao always starts with a firm foundation. I really did not understand this until I asked Mrs. Rao what concrete was. She went out and bought a bag of concrete for us to make just so I could understand.
She has a big impact on my life and she also lets me teach her about being blind so together we keep on learning.
Paige reminded me that these success stories would not be possible without the support of their local school district. Connie Moore, the principal of Andy Woods Elementary, believes in “teachable moments” and understands the importance of release time for her vision teacher.
Paige believes that Alex is exposed to the expanded core curriculum because Mrs. Rao not only answers Alex’s many questions, but involves her in finding the answer. If at all possible, Alex hears about it, reads about it, and does it.
This approach pays off, the first place prize for her essay was a $1,500 gift certificate from Circuit City.
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