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Meet the 2019-2020 APH Scholars!
Each year, EOTs are asked to nominate someone they feel provides outstanding service in their region. Through a scholarship, awardees are sent to Annual Meeting in Louisville as a guest of APH. APH pays for all expenses in attending the conference including transportation to the meeting, conference registration, and hotel accommodations.
We would like to thank the APH scholars for their contributions to the field and tell you a little about each of them.
Barb Johnson has been a TVI for 35 years. “I always wanted to be a teacher,” she says. “Early on in my teaching career, I found out I was going to have a student with a significant visual impairment in my class. That year, the University of Nebraska began a program to train teachers to teach students with visual impairments. I signed up immediately. After that one student, I knew this field was for me.”
Making an Impact
Barb began as a preschool teacher for the Philadelphia School for the Blind in the 1980s and now works as an itinerant teacher in the Lincoln Nebraska School District. Every day on the job is exciting for Barb. She loves “working with students of all ages, strengths, and challenges.” One of the best parts about being a teacher is learning from your students. Barb says, “I learned about resiliency, perseverance, and dignity. By their example, I have learned to be a better person.”
When she’s not with her class, Barb works as the leader of the vision team in the Lincoln Public Schools and assists with the completion of paperwork for Federal Quota funds. She’s also a member of the Lincoln Public Schools Deafblind Team where she helps develop professional development activities for the district. As if that weren’t enough, Barb is part of the Nebraska Instructional Resource Center (NIRC) Advisory Group. This group holds lively discussions where they review and promote APH products, talk about the Federal Quota process, and come up with creative ways to use APH materials.
Praise for Barb
Barb was nominated as an APH Scholar by her colleague, Dr. Tan Armstrong. “Barb is genuine. She sincerely believes in the students she serves, schools she consults with, and parents who are advocates for their children. Barb has high expectations for those she works with and gives 110% to everything she does. As a team leader, staff members appreciate her leadership and organizational skills which are invaluable,” he says.
Barb hopes that the BVI field continues to grow. “I hope that students with visual impairments have an equal chance to reach their full potential,” she says. Barb also hopes that “bright creative teachers continue to join the field” and that there are more resources available to meet the needs of the students.
Carrie Tanner’s introduction to the field of blindness started when she worked in Residential Life at the Washington State School for the Blind (WSSB). “I enjoyed the relationships I formed with the kids so much,” Carrie says.
The Next Step
It was her relationships with students that let her know she wanted to play a bigger role. She wanted to become a TVI. Carrie was “excited by the challenge of figuring out how to best teach people with limited vision.” After getting her Master’s degree, she returned to WSSB, where she has worked as a TVI for eight years.
Carrie loves how her job is different every day and “how most issues that come up don’t have simple answers, but require creative solutions.”
One great example of this is how Carrie used the yellow emu from APH’s Envision Kit as a learning tool for kindergarten students. “We named her Emmy and she began to regularly attend our braille reading lessons. The catch was: she only appeared and would only stay as long as the students were using their nicest manners. One student in particular struggled greatly with braille and behavior. If she started to lose control, Emmy would gently remind her of expectations. If she was still rude, Emmy could walk out, providing a natural consequence to the student’s behavior in a way I couldn’t.”
Modifying a lesson to accommodate the needs of the students and making sure that the children meet expectations is a difficult skill to master. Still, Carrie’s passion and dedication to her career drives her to implement new ideas and promote academic success.
Carrie hopes to see more TVIs and O&M instructors so that they can serve more students. She also encourages people in the field to keep up with the changing population of students and adults.
Mariellen Treptow has been a teacher for more than 30 years. When she started teaching, she worked with students with severe disabilities and visual needs with little access to BVI resources. “I saw the importance of my own need to understand the implications of visual impairments and sought to become a teacher for children with visual impairments,” she explains.
Making an Impact
Mariellen now works as an itinerant TVI in the Austin Independent School District in Texas, where she teaches students of all ages. One of her favorite parts of her job is getting to see students “smile when they can access something with their vision and/or compensatory skills that they didn’t know was there or didn’t think they could obtain themselves.”
Praise for Mariellen
Mariellen was nominated as an APH Scholar by her colleague, Vicki DePountis, an O&M specialist who frequently works with Mariellen and her students. “I have never heard [Mariellen] complain about the amount of time her work took, or about any of her students’ needs. Parents are comfortable calling her, or emailing her, because they know she cares. Mariellen’s dedication to her students and their families is as deep as it can get. She continues to have an upbeat attitude, creative spirit, and giving heart. She has touched the lives of many lucky children, families, and professionals.”
Mariellen would like to see better, universal accommodations in public schools. “No one should ask a blind or visually impaired student why they have been placed in a public school and not in the school for the blind.” In terms of technology, Mariellen says, “Programmers need to include accessibility features that allow a student to access without our assistance or at least allow our VI supporting software to make them useful to all students. It’s wonderful to see our families looking forward to jobs and relationships in the home community, when the technology and environment support everyone.”
Dr. Mary Robbins
Before Dr. Mary Robbins became a TVI, she worked as a chemist and professor. When her son was diagnosed with a visual impairment, she started down a new path. “I loved working with my son on the homework activities his teacher planned, and it was so rewarding to see his progress. We were motivated to ensure that he had the very best of instruction and that our family was equipped to most effectively support and empower him.” Dr. Robbins went back to school and graduated with her Master’s in Teaching Students with Visual Impairments.
Making an Impact
Dr. Robbins works as an itinerant TVI with the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind Vision Outreach Services. Her caseload consists of students from several public school districts and a private school, ranging in age from kindergarten through high school, including students who have multiple disabilities.
“My favorite thing about teaching,” Dr. Robbins says, “is building relationships with my students and their families and empowering and equipping them with the skills to meet their goals. The main goal for every teacher is helping students succeed in their learning. Attaining this goal is challenging, especially when it comes to working with students who exhibit refusal behaviors in the classroom.”
With another teacher, Dr. Robbins designed a new curriculum that incorporated APH’s Joy Player and Invisiboard. “We pair interactive visual/tactile materials with songs/stories and use them to teach both academic and expanded core curriculum skills,” Dr. Robbins explains. Listening to music seems to be a huge motivator for her students. As a result, she says, “The Joy Player has been instrumental in teaching our students to use switches, to make choices, and to use a personal schedule/communication system.”
Praise for Dr. Robbins
Dr. Robbins was nominated as an APH Scholar by her colleague, Marty McKenzie, the principal of Statewide Blind and Visually Impaired Education. He says, “Her commitment to her students extends beyond the classroom as Dr. Robbins and her family attend sporting events and other extracurricular activities where her students participate. Dr. Robbins is on the cutting edge with the use of assistive technology and she is respected throughout the state because of her skills in this area. TVIs across South Carolina contact Dr. Robbins for her insight on a variety of topics. Her use of APH products is legendary within Statewide Blind and Visually Impaired Education at SCSDB and she has demonstrated her creative use of these materials in a variety of ways.”
Dr. Robbins hopes that we “achieve significant improvement in long-term employment statistics for our students. Currently, the amount of blind and visually impaired adults who have jobs is at an all-time low. Working to increase the number of employed workers is an ongoing issue that needs to be taken seriously and that people must work to correct.”
Tia Reed started her career as a special education teacher. “My very first student had Albinism,” she says. “I became very interested in helping students with visual impairments.” Years later, she learned that Texas Tech was offering a grant to become certified as an Orientation and Mobility Specialist or TVI. She applied and was accepted.
The Next Step
After her certification, Tia continued to work as a special education teacher and taught O&M. Last year, her passion for O&M led her to become a private contractor of O&M services. She now serves six school districts across Wyoming and Colorado.
Tia’s career has taught her that students “are always more capable of accomplishing more than we give them credit for.” To unlock a student’s potential for navigating independently, Tia uses APH’s Picture Maker: Wheatley Tactile Diagramming Kit. She asks students to “make map layouts of places in their school or environment, like their cafeteria or library.” After the map is complete, she says, “We travel to the room and double check their work. They are always surprised when they have missed a piece of furniture.”
By running their fingers across the picture, students become more familiar with the locations of items in the room and start to construct their own mental image of the place.
Looking Toward the Future
Looking toward the future of the BVI field, Tia has high hopes for technology. “Technology is allowing people who are BVI to become more independent,” she says, “and I hope it continues to develop. I am also excited about the increase of awareness for people who are BVI.”