Video: Braille part of everyday fabric of Scituate elementary school

Gary Higgins

Sam Borek, 8, runs his fingertips across the textured page. 

“My writing project about sharks has about two sentences to go, and I just finished the cover drawing of a great white,” Sam says.

Using a glue stick, he attaches a sturdy, thick one-inch block of trimmed paper to the drawing. A pattern of raised dots covers the paper’s surface.

“That’s my name,” says Sam excitedly, peering through thick lenses, as he rattles off facts about sharks then segues into detailing his jam-packed itinerary.

Sam is one of a half-dozen visually impaired students at Scituate’s Jenkins Elementary School, unable to see much more than blurred shapes and colors. Here, he and others use Braille as their primary reading and writing medium, learning in regular grade-level classrooms.

“Most of what a sighted child learns comes from a visual sense,” says Jean Shea, a teacher in the program who has worked with Sam and others since they were in preschool. “The visually impaired must use their tactile sense.”

That includes students like Brendan Barry, 10, who whisks his outstretched white cane from side-to-side as he reaches the top of the stairwell. While his instruction is specialized, it happens in the midst of a busy, normal suburban school.

Youngsters like Brendan and Sam read their Braille texts and worksheets alongside their peers. Preparing to function in the “real world” is key to the program, said Shea, and learning Braille makes it all work.

“The chance for employability as an adult is so much greater for a Braille learner,” Shea says.

Braille consists of six dots which comprise the Braille cell. The arrangement of these dots determines the particular letter or Braille contraction.

The boys read aloud as their fingers scan the patterns of dots. Shea teaches as the busy clicking of keys from the Perkins Brailler – a six keyed typewriter-like device that produces raise dots – adds a cadence to the lesson.

“Braille is the way a visually impaired person can have access and produce and read the same materials as a sighted person,” Shea says.

The Patriot Ledger