Sam Borek, a legally blind second-grader, won a first-place prize for his self-portrait in a national contest.

Sam Borek doesn’t fancy himself an artist. But looking at his self-portrait – a mix of bold paints, ribbon and seashells that bears an uncanny resemblance to the second-grader – you wouldn’t believe him.


You also wouldn’t believe he is blind.


“I didn’t even know there was a contest for art, but I won first place,” said Sam, fingering the blue ribbon that signifies his win.


The portrait, which he painted last year as a first-grader, was picked for the top award in his age group by the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, Ky.


One of four visually impaired students at Jenkins Elementary School in Scituate, Sam is in a class with students who do not have difficulty seeing, like his triplet brothers, Max and Connor.


He gets help in many subjects from Jean Shea, a specialist who has taught visually impaired students for nearly two decades.


Shea, who has known Sam since he was 3 years old, entered his portrait in the national contest last year. The organization holds the contest for visually impaired children and adults annually, and puts out a calendar featuring the first-place artwork.


Sam, who can barely see the paper he painted the portrait on, admits the portrait looks a great deal like himself.


“That one is the real me,” he said, pointing at a picture of himself beside the painting.


The mixed-medium assignment is one that art teacher Eileen Rotty assigns to first-graders every year.


“First-graders are so guileless in the way they draw themselves,” Rotty said. “They are so free to paint and draw exactly who they think they are.”


While the assignment posed a particular challenge for Sam, who walks with a cane and reads Braille, his creativity bridges any gaps left by lack of sight, Rotty said.


“He’s got an imagination,” she said. “I don’t think Sam will ever be at a loss for ideas.”


Sam, who has completed paintings “tons of times,” said there may be some challenges he is not up to.


“I don’t know, making the Great Wall of China would be hard,” he said. “It’s longer than this school.”


Shea said Sam has always been an independent student who keeps up with his peers despite many challenges. While opportunities have opened for visually impaired students and adults in recent years, there will always be challenges, she said.


“There is still a bias, still the idea that you have to prove yourself,” said Shea. “For these children to succeed, they need to take spend two or three times longer on their schoolwork.”


For Sam, keeping up is the furthest thing from his mind.


He will add the blue first-place ribbon to his trophies in karate and swimming.


“I’m going to get one in chess this year, too,” he said.


Contact Kaitlin Keane at kkeane@ledger.com.