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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Teacher helps students learn about Braille at Pennichuck Middle School in Nashua

For seventh-grader Juliet Drobysh, daily schedules are important, and for her, they are planned by using small toys or shapes to represent different activities. The same items are used to write and read stories, gluing them onto pieces of cardboard bound together like a large book.

Those shapes and toys are what Drobysh needs because she is visually impaired and has multiple other disabilities. She cannot read Braille, but knows what it is and can identify it. Instead, she is what her teacher, Sallyanne Kinoy, calls a “tactile” learner, communicating through the small items that make up her books and calendars. ...

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For seventh-grader Juliet Drobysh, daily schedules are important, and for her, they are planned by using small toys or shapes to represent different activities. The same items are used to write and read stories, gluing them onto pieces of cardboard bound together like a large book.

Those shapes and toys are what Drobysh needs because she is visually impaired and has multiple other disabilities. She cannot read Braille, but knows what it is and can identify it. Instead, she is what her teacher, Sallyanne Kinoy, calls a “tactile” learner, communicating through the small items that make up her books and calendars.

It’s a learning style that many of Drobysh’s fellow students cannot understand, and so Kinoy, who is trained to read and write in Braille and work with visually impaired students, decided to do her part to change that.

In January, she helped the school celebrate national Braille Literacy Month and has since ensured that efforts to promote understanding and inclusion of visually impaired students continues
throughout the school year.

“I just thought this would be a great way to get the whole school involved in something,” she said. “They see (Drobysh) in a wheelchair but they don’t really know what it’s all about. Kids can be very insular.”

So Kinoy, with help from
students and staff at Pennichuck Middle School in Nashua, filled the hallways with famous quotes, jokes and announcements, all written in Braille. She made Braille versions of teachers’ favorite sayings for their classrooms, and had students make Braille books for elementary schools in the city.

She also runs a club as part of the middle school’s 21st Century Afterschool Program, teaching students how to read Braille and working with them on various projects to promote awareness around the school.

Currently, there are no Braille readers in the school district, Kinoy said, but there are plenty of visually impaired students, and some who are learning Braille.

Because none uses it to read and write yet, other students in the school system are even less likely to have an awareness about what Braille is, she said. And when working to support a school environment that is inclusive and supportive for all students, it’s important that other students can relate to how they learn.

And Kinoy said that she has been working with the school’s literacy specialist to help her incorporate Braille into her lessons. For students who are struggling to learn to read and write, practicing spelling in a more hands-on way, through Braille, can positively impact learning.

It’s Kinoy’s work with Drobysh that inspired her to teach the school about the challenges their visually impaired peers face every day, and the tools they can use to live a normal life.

For Drobysh, it’s tools like small audio recorders, an iPad and the tactile books and other items that help her in school.

A small apple and pencil are posted to the wall outside her classroom door, the way that Drobysh knows she is entering that room.

Similar objects are posted in other areas of the school, like the bathrooms, library and cafeteria. In the classroom, books are made not only using the small objects, but also using the audio recorders.

Kinoy and other teachers that work with Drobysh record themselves reading the books on the devices, so that as Drobysh turns a page, she can press the recorder and hear the words that go along with the tactile pages. That, Kinoy said, helps her associate the different objects with the words they represent.

Every Friday, Drobysh plays bingo with a general education class next door. It’s another way that Kinoy said she tries to promote inclusion in every day school life for Drobysh.

Fellow students were already accepting of the seventh-grader, Kinoy said, but she believes the work during Braille Literacy Month has helped them better understand her.

“Her peers are fascinated with Braille. They love that it is kind of a secret code to them,” she said. “Students come in all the time now, asking Juliet what is on her schedule for the day.”

And Kinoy said she is hoping she can keep that momentum going, not only for Drobysh, but also to ensure that Pennichuck’s students will be able to effectively communicate and include any other visually impaired students or adults they come across in their lives.

One afternoon in February, she worked with her 21st Century club to type up some Braille messages as part of a new program in the school that allows students and teachers to send “secret-coded” messages, written in Braille, to their classmates or staff members.

Eleven-year-olds Jasmine Gagnon and Larissa Lin were among a group of five students who worked with Kinoy to write the messages, using a Braille machine to carefully type up the messages submitted by others in the school.

They took their time, discussing how to use the machine to make the correct letters in Braille. Braille letters and punctuation are made up of different combinations of dots.

The students said they didn’t really know anything about Braille, or how visually impaired people read and write, before taking part in Kinoy’s club, but that they were interested in learning more.

Kinoy said this kind of response has been common around the school.

“It’s amazing how the other kids have just taken to this,” she said. “It just really brings them right into it, and helps them better understand each other.”

Danielle Curtis can be reached
at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis on Twitter (@Telegraph_DC).