Future Reflections          Winter/Spring 2008

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It Takes a Village—Iowa School Staff Help Turn Discards into Braille Teaching Tool

by Art Stuchis

Editor’s Note: Braille is fun. Braille is exciting. Braille is important. That’s what Art Stuchis, inventory specialist with the Des Moines Public Schools Central Stores department thinks. Here’s his unusual but uplifting account about Braille, school collaboration, and an innovative teaching tool made from discards. You may or may not be able to find and replicate the materials used for the nifty Braille teaching tool Stuchis describes, but the story is worth reading anyway for the inspiration. Here it is:

The plastic base normally secures glue sticks, but in this case can represent two Braille cells side-by-side. Oak “buttons” are placed strategically to represent the Braille code. Here, the word “mother” is represented.Merry-Noel Chamberlain teaches Braille to Des Moines Public School (DMPS) students who are blind or low vision. Braille is a tactile representation of letters of the alphabet, series of letters (such as “tion”), or whole words (such as “knowledge”) by different configurations of dots called a “cell” in a field of six (exactly like the number six on dice.) Since her students are low vision or blind, the tactual approach is best for learning. Teachers are constantly seeking entertaining and interesting ways to pass knowledge on to their students. So, Merry-Noel was very excited when she discovered that the plastic base packing that secures glue sticks had indentations that looked exactly like two Braille cells side-by-side. By arranging small steel magnetic balls or oak “buttons” (that look like miniature muffins), in these indentations, her students could make a game out of configuring different letters or contractions in Braille.

That’s how Linda Stanley and I got involved. Merry-Noel sought us out and requested our assistance in collecting these discarded plastic base packings. I felt that Merry-Noel was innovative and practical in utilizing something as a learning tool that was discarded by the hundreds by Central Stores when we distributed supplies.

Linda Stanley, a bus driver for DMPS, works in Central Stores during the summer to assist with the rush of orders in preparation for the start of the upcoming school year. Linda has a heart for children, especially those with disabilities, because of a cousin who overcame obstacles to graduate from college. (A success in itself!) When Linda learned of the value of the plastic base for Braille contractions, she began collecting them. Knowing her time in Central Stores was limited, she took it upon herself to repackage the glue sticks with rubber bands and salvage the plastic base packing (aka: Braille cells.)

This is where I enter the picture. Every story of intrigue needs a flunky, a carrier, someone to smuggle the goods out and deliver them to where they are needed most. That was my job. About an hour after regular quitting time one mid-August evening, I left my office with a plastic Hy-Vee bag carrying a box of 96 packing bases. I almost made it. Unknown to me, still in the building were Kyle Black (my boss’s boss) and Sheila Mason (my boss’s boss’s boss). Upon seeing me, Kyle questioned what was in the bag. Trying to put the best face on in an awkward situation, I replied “You know, that is a nice story …” and proceeded to tell him about Merry-Noel’s innovativeness and Linda’s adoption of the project.

I’ve since been told that these 96 Braille tools have been, or will be, distributed several ways: some went to parents to assist with tutoring Braille to their children; some have gone directly to DMPS blind or low-vision students; some went to classroom teachers who, for the first time, have a blind student in their class; and some will be distributed to teachers throughout the state at an up-coming statewide conference about blindness and low vision to be held in West Des Moines.

Words cannot express the benefits to our students when there is collaboration among teachers. This demonstrates that collaboration between teachers and other members of the DMPS team can benefit our students and others throughout the state as well.

Back in the olden days, the blackboard was used by students who misbehaved to duplicate a sentence multiple times for penance. Thus, this account--my penance. Thanks, Kyle, for requiring me to write this only once.

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