What transpires when the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District (KPBSD) hires a teacher who is blind for two students who are also blind, two aides, an itinerant vision teacher, and designates space for a vision room at Kenai Middle School? "Magic and transformational learning," says Pegge Erkeneff, KPBSD communication specialist.
Last fall at the recommendation of John Claire, KPBSD itinerant vision teacher, the District hired Jordana Engebretsen. "I believe blind kids need the mentorship of a blind adult and we were very fortunate to find Jordana, Minnesota's loss was our gain, she is a true jewel," says Claire. "I arrived August 22nd and started work August 23rd, not much transition time," laughed Jordana in an interview with the Dispatch. "I teach skills for the girls to be able to be successful alongside their sighted peers. My girls are very intelligent and very academic but they need these special skills like brail and special computer technology to be successful in the classroom alongside their friends," explained Engebretsen.
Jordana grew up as a sighted person in Ecuador where she had never even met a blind person. Then at age 21 she contracted Lupus and lost her sight, "We are a third world country and there was no technology or assistance such as brail for the blind, but I became determined to do something with my life and I won a scholarship to come to the states and go to a training school for the blind and go to college to ultimately earn my masters degree. They taught me everything from brail to computer technology to how to dress without help, do my make-up, hair, and everything an independent sighted person needs to do, and that's what my girls are learning right now," she said. According to Jordana the KPBSD has been outstanding, "They are an amazing district to work with, I have worked with other districts in Minnesota and I'm amazed how open this district is to provide what is needed. Our technology is very pricey, but they understand how much it is needed and are very helpful."
"I use a six key brail note computer to work on, it'll create documents just like any computer but in brail, but it's more of a note taker than a regular computer, I use it a lot," said 14-year-old Destiny who also loves to sing. "I have a 32 cell brail note and Destiny's is an 18 cell that we learn with. The best part about school for me is that Ms. Jordana is actually here," said 12-year-old Maria who also loves to sing and do math. "The best part of my job is to see the girls be challenged and realize what they are capable of doing. Destiny and Maria are intelligent, very talented and highly academic and I believe they will very far in their education. I feel I am here to enable them to accomplish their dreams," added Jordana.
Pegge Erkeneff says that learning whether you are sighted or blind is really quite similar, only different, "A learning curve exists for each of us--in a fundamentally sighted world, we are still more similar than different. When we celebrate our humanness, and our differences, shadows and dark places begin to vanish, understanding grows, and we cultivate communities of learning and hope. This is transforming magic, a gift of education. Our two students who are Braille Readers, together with their aides and teacher, who is also blind and a Braille reader, are inspirational. The Vision Room at Kenai Middle School reflects the school district commitment to each of our diverse students. In addition, the girls demonstrate capability, not disability. The interaction in classes with their peers helps to create a school culture of understanding, respect, and compassion." To learn more about the KPBSD Vision Program go to www.kpbsd.k12.ak.us/communications.