Portland Teacher of the Visually Impaired Teaches Braille to Young Emma
Team Angels/Carmen Tapia - Amigos de La Cruz

July 9, 2017

Shawna O'Neal is a teacher of the Visually Impaired in Portland, Oregon. She volunteered to come to La Cruz to work with Emma, a blind 6-year old first grade student at the Primaria (elementary school).  Shawna is being hosted by Amigos de La Cruz volunteer par excellence Carmen Tapia, a "retired" teacher from Tucson, Arizona who now makes Tucson and Punta Esmeralda her home.

Shawna O'Neal arrived in Puerto Vallarta on July 2 via Alaska Airlines, thank you Scott & Kim. Staying with Carmen while in La Cruz for the week, Shawna brought along a Brailler typewriter, Braille strips, special paper and other materials - to help teach Emma for the 5 days.

There are also Spanish/Braille books previously purchased, a talking watch, talking tape measure, foam shapes and numbers - all donated by an anonymous donor, Banderas Bay Charities through generous contributions and Shawna. These items will remain in La Cruz.

Shawna's work includes evaluating Emma's sight (can she see light and dark?), teach her how to use the cane, teach Emma Braille and how to use the Brailler, work with a volunteer to read to Emma as she follows along with the custom-typed Braille strips transferred to each page.

As there are funds remaining, Shawna (fingers crossed) will return for another stay sometime this next school year.

Carmen shares her day-by-day progress report:

Day 1 - Introduction to Braille... we are all learning!

We learned that Emma sees light with her right eye! Left eye hurts sometimes. Mom has agreed that Shawna can take Emma's medical records to Portland to have her evaluated.

Emma keeps rubbing her eyes and Shawna discovers it's her bangs! I combed her hair and held it away from her face and she stopped rubbing her eyes! So simple but no one thought about it but Shawna. She has a lot of experience and is very knowledgeable. Emma cannot wear bangs at all, starting tomorrow.

Shawna is amazing!! She is teaching Emma, her mother, Emma's twin sister Sofia, the teacher and Me. We are all into Braille now!

After school we went to the Kids Club to work one more hour with the teacher. There was a problem because the little classrooms didn't have electricity while the big room does. So we will be using the main room. There must be a fuse out, or something like that but I don't know what to do, so I didn't mess with it.

Emma is already learning the Braille Alphabet! Tomorrow she will start typing on her machine! It is a great experience, I will try to take some classes in Tucson because it is the same in Spanish and in English. It is very exciting to see Emma trying so hard.

Shawna is preparing a big serious talk with mom tomorrow about what needs to be done for Emma's future. Shawna worked at a girls boarding school for the blind in Guadalajara, she hopes to convince mom that this may be the best avenue for Emma. Emma is a bright and deserving child. OK, donors, we'll be calling on you again if this is a "go."

Day 2: Shawna and Emma get a new Assistant - Little Dunia

Today Emma is learning to write with the Braille machine. And Emma also got a new teacher today in her Braille Learning Team, Little Dunia. Dunia is an incoming sixth grade student, whose mother Dunia is a local veterinarian.

Dunia will go with Emma to the summer camp and will practice Braille with Emma an hour every day at camp.

Day 3: The Brailler(s)

Report from Shawna O'Neal:

My work here is SO hard but SO wonderful.
Today Emma was able to work almost the entire time. She is already building up her awareness to be engaged in reading and writing. It was wonderful to see!

Next I made a letter scramble in Braille of the FIVE letters she already recognizes in Braille. She was so successful in reading and writing the five letters. Her face lit up SO many times today!

Each day, I send home the work she completes and encourage mom, upon Emma's request, to start putting her work in a three ring binder to start making her own book.

Emma was introduced to a few different tactile experiences: the life cycle of a butterfly, a seed, and a frog. Emma said, "let me see" while searching for more pieces.

Today we also worked on shapes with wooden and plastic pieces on a Velcro board and tactile Braille shapes on paper. Emma was shown how to make a house out of a square and triangle. She wanted to add a rectangle on the side for the kitchen.

Carmen taught Emma how to give someone a high five. Emma wanted to give all of us high fives over and over with a huge smile on her face.

Emma's mother, Gaby, has been 100% interested. We are sending one Braille writer home with Emma for use over the summer and then to bring back the first day of school. Mom was thrilled!  

Thanks to an anonymous donor, Emma now has two Braille writers. This way, if one breaks, Amy can return the damaged one for repair in Portland.

Shawna showed Gaby how to load the paper and some problem solving techniques with the Braille writer. Mom listens and watches Emma as she is reading and writing Braille, encouraging her the entire time!

Carmen reported that Gaby said, as a token of gratitude that she would help Amigos in any way she could. Gaby helped Carmen with summer school registration today.

Shawna continues to teach Emma and Gaby how to use the white cane. The Oregon Commission for the Blind gave Emma three white canes of varying lengths.

Shawna is encouraging Emma to keep her cane by the door at school and at home so that it is in the same place always. Emma is comfortable and safe inside the classroom so she does not need to use it then.  

Carmen used her petty cash to buy a three-drawer storage cart for ALL of Emma's Braille related materials. This will be kept in the classroom with Braille labels on it so that Emma can independently go to the drawers and get what she needs.    

Tonight Shawna was Brailling a Spanish textbook that Carmen recommended, to help Emma understand the letters of words. It introduces each letter in a specific order to promote successful reading. Carmen is letting Gaby borrow it until she can buy one herself.

Shawna will send home what she can Braille of the book so that they can study over the summer. Shawna is buying a copy to have the rest of the book Brailled in Portland and then giving it to Amy for her trip down in August or November.

Shawna continues to teach Braille everyday to Carmen, Gaby, Dunia, Emma and Laura.

So much light is coming into Emma's life this week! She is SO HAPPY learning!!!   
Day 4: Emma reads Dad's name in Braille for the first time and...

Report from Shawna and Carmen:

"My work here is SO hard but SO wonderful."
When asked why the work was so hard, Shawna replied that, "the work is hard because there are a lot of people who need to learn how to teach Braille correctly when I am gone. I only have five days here. On top of this I am teaching the most important person learning Braille, Emma.

What makes this all wonderful is seeing the adults, Dunia, and Emma learning Braille so fast and loving what I love, Braille."

Carmen reports that Emma's mother, Gaby "has been totally committed with training, sometimes working with Emma to let Shawna work with Dunia, other times she covers for teacher Laura, so Laura can get some extra training.

Dunia is Brailling little stories she had at home so that Emma has books to read! Dunia has even helped me with summer school registration."  

And now for Shawna & Carmen's Day 4 report: get the hankie out, it is a tear jerker, I couldn't even finish the text without crying. So much good is happening!
What a big day! Emma reviewed the Brailled letter scramble Shawna made yesterday and was so successful.

Today Emma read faster and with more ease. She has not been able to move her hands from left to right reading the entire line of Braille without Hand over Hand Help (click on article that is in español or English) until today. Independently, she moved her hand across the line to read almost half of it by herself. Shawna did not have to guide her hands as much today.//www.familyconnect.org/info/browse-by-age/infants-and-toddlers/education-iandt/hand-under-hand-and-hand-over-hand/1235

This is a big improvement, on top of knowing how to read the letters in her name, plus four more letters that make up her dad and mother's names. Gaby, reported that Emma went home yesterday to show her dad how she can read his name and was SO proud. Her dad was crying. Gaby was super impressed today seeing her read faster and with more ease and independence.
Carmen brought tactile materials she had purchased for her granddaughter to use with Emma. Each container has a letter of the alphabet and inside are five to six small objects that start with that letter. Emma was trilled to get another tactile experience today. She got to look at the containers of the letters she knows after she read the Braille name.

Shawna again showed Dunia, who will work with Emma in summer school, how to work with Emma guiding her hands, questions to ask, etc. Shawna set up a schedule of what to work on and how.

Shawna worked most of the day with Classroom teacher Laura: teaching her Braille, how to work with a student who is blind, and answered some very good questions the teacher had about specific curriculum demands.

Gaby was covering the lessons for Laura in the classroom while she was out learning with Shawna. So helpful and thoughtful! Shawna and Laura set up a plan of what Emma needs to work on daily to be successful in learning Braille and what the next steps are when Emma is ready.

Shawna shared her email with Gaby and Laura, encouraging them to email her when they had questions and send her a video of Emma reading or writing Braille to help problem solve.

Mother Gaby has a strong understanding of Braille and is excited to help Emma over the summer with the Braille writer.

Another great day of Emma expanding her world!

Day 5: Great Goals Accomplished - Guadalajara School a "maybe"

Report from Carmen - pictures on the Amigos de La Cruz Facebook page.

Great goals were accomplished, Emma even improved the way she expresses herself. Kudos to Amigos.

But we also made bigger progress with her parents. Yeah! Gaby was against letting Emma go to the School in Guadalajara* and now, she is contemplating that possibility. Gaby even talked to her husband about it and they are not so opposed to doing this because they have seen the change in their little girl. Gaby reports that Emma is so excited showing her dad all the new things she can now “see."  Dad was moved.
So everyday, Shawna and I explained the benefits of the boarding school for the blind; it is the same school that Shawna volunteered at 10 years ago. We talked to mom about it and showed her a video. Parents are now contemplating the possibility.

The plan is to get Emma started for one year here with our help and then let her go to the school in Guadalajara as a boarding student! Gaby’s mother lives in Guadalajara and she could take her out of school on weekends. The thought is that Amigos will provide tuition, uniform, room and board and that once a month Amigos will send mom to Guadalajara to be with her daughter.
If this happens, Amigos de La Cruz will have changed her life forever, she would be as independent as possible. :-)

La Escuela de Niños Ciegas, located in the Las Águilas neighborhood of Guadalajara, serves approximately forty blind girls (and now boys). It is also a boarding school for about twenty of the children, some of whom are orphans and others whose families live outside of Guadalajara.

Shawna brought a draftsman to show everyone how they can draw shapes and pictures for Emma. Emma tried it but at this time does not have enough strength in her hand and awareness of how to hold a pencil. She is building great strength by using the Braille writer.
For each letter Emma read, Shawna would give her the container with the Braille letter on top. Shawna started giving her two so she had to pick the correct one to explore. Emma loves games and fun! She is SO happy and curious to learn and explore more.

Banderas Bay Charities, Inc, donated books in Spanish & Braille, and a calendar we put together for each month.

Shawna brought smelly stickers from Portland. Mom Gaby is actively participating. Emma loves them also!

Today Dunia wrote out the names of all Emma's classmates and we made a presentation to the class. I explained to her friends that Emma sees with her hands, and that she reads dots instead of letters.

Emma showed her classmates how she types Braille while Shawna dictated to her, then she called the students one-by-one and gave them their name in Braille. Shawna went after each student and we pasted their names on top of their desks.

After the presentation, I assisted Emma to walk by each student's desk showing what she had just typed for her friend. She could touch each name, and know where each friend sat in class. She is not shy at all and has a sweet personality.

Emma used the manipulatives of the butterfly, frog and seeds. Standing in front of the class, in a loud and clear voice, she explained the cycles of plants and animals and insects.

Emma is getting better and better at using her Braille typewriter.

She practiced at school this week and will practice at home through the summer. We decided to give Emma one typewriter to take home, mom will bring it back everyday to school. Mom decided to become Emma's assistant which is great because she took the training very seriously.

THANK YOU, again and AGAIN, for bringing Shawna to La Cruz - Anonymous Donors, Alaska Airlines, Scott & Kim Edwards, Oregon Commission for the Blind, and Banderas Bay Charities, Inc.

Read related: Wishlist for Emma & Kids Club of Amigos de La Cruz

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