HKSB in the Media
Graduation: Helen Keller School for the Blind
July 18, 2006
by Sonia E. Wilson
As a child growing up in Jamaica, one of my fondest memories is of me and my older brother Michael taking our blind grandmother to visit her friends. Known in the community as Matron McIntyre (she was the Matron at the local hospital, a position similar to Head Nurse) to my siblings Michael, Hyacinth, Ian, and myself she was “Gongon.”
Gongon was totally blind in both eyes. Our parents told us she lost all sight in her 80’s to cataracts. She died in her sleep of natural causes at 98. I was born with a condition in my right eye called coloboma, and as a result, the vision in my right eye is limited to the perception of movement and large objects…
So as I sat in the audience at the Graduation Ceremony of the Helen Keller School for the Blind in late June, I felt a kinship with the graduates, and even though as a reporter I shouldn’t; I was moved to tears.
Sitting next to Tom and Nancy Lancia, parents of 2006 preschool graduate Nicholas Lancia, I knew something very special was about to happen. Nicholas and his fellow graduates, all in wheelchair processional, entered the KeySpan Auditorium, to music teacher, Michel Gentile’s solo rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Fourteen students made up the graduating class: Kyle Ashby, Dior Barrocales, Justin Barrocales, Shaheim Campbell, Kevin Figueroa, Mikael Jones, Moise Joseph, Nicholas Lancia, Juan Navarro, Elijah Pearce, Brandon Tejeda, Riaz Uddin, Gumanine Williams, and the only girl, Anthonette Primus, appropriately nicknamed “Princess.”
Under the guidance of a very caring staff led by Principal Gregory Santamoor, the students at Helen Keller are nurtured by a “very passionate staff” which Principal Santamoor points out, “did not enter their profession for money, but rather, a passion for the kids, in order to prepare them for new learning environments.”
Principal Santamoor points out that “Children learn most of what they know in the first five years” and since the graduates have been under his care since infancy, he sees this graduation as a milestone in their lives.
Teachers at Helen Keller teach the same way as any pre-school teacher would—except that they must make adaptations for children with visual impairments. Passion is a recurring sentiment as John Lynch, the executive director of Helen Keller Services for the Blind lauds the staff, saying, “You cannot find a more passionate and caring staff.”
John Lynch expresses pride that his “is a very unique program, with a diverse student enrollment, and equally diverse staff.”
The school’s mission is to serve the visually impaired, and the executive director invites anyone who knows a child who is visually impaired to contact his program.
Some graduates have gone on to local public schools, others to neighborhood private schools, which is the objective of the Helen Keller Program—to get kids into normal learning environments.
The school is set up like any other school, in order to help kids reach developmental milestones. Naheed Gilani, the school’s Physical Therapist, has been working there for 10 years, and cites significant improvement in the students’ motor and speech skills, considering that many entered the program unable to walk or talk.
Parent Carmen Navarro, whose son Juan Navarro has been at the school for a year, beams as she talks about the improvement she has seen in Juan in the very short time he’s been at the school.
The awesome and dedicated staff of The Children’s Learning Center as characterized by the Principal, is unmistakable, and clearly apparent. “I don’t think there is any therapy team as good and as dedicated as these teachers and therapists,” said this parent.