HKSB in the Media
Helen Keller Services for the Blind Sends Pre-Schoolers Into a Bright Future
New York Daily News
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
by Ayala Falk
Daniel Olynyk felt his way to the graduation stage while his teary-eyed mother snapped pictures—pictures the 5-year-old will never be able to see.
The boy’s ability to independently walk at his preschool graduation, with the help of a guide stick, stood out as the 14 other children were carried, pushed and coaxed by their teachers at Helen Keller Services for the Blind.
“Daniel is the mayor of the class,” said the boy’s teacher, Irina Kocherova.
Daniel had come a long way from two years ago, when he couldn’t feed himself, talk or walk. He cried all the time, Kocherova said. “In two years, he changed so much,” she said. “He’s so friendly. He’s so happy.”
Daniel recently realized how far he had come when he climbed a flight of stairs by himself: “Look at me. I’m walking by myself like a big boy now,” he told his mother, Tanya.
Daniel and his classmates - all around the age of 5 and partially or completely blind - wore tiny caps, gowns and tassels at the graduation, where Matthew Sapolin, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, made the parents a promise.
“Your children will make you proud,” said Sapolin, who is blind and also a graduate of the preschool program. “Youngsters like you can maybe have my job someday.”
The ear-to-ear smiles on the children’s faces as they sang, stomped and clapped to celebrate their graduation sent parents craning their necks, making sure not to miss one precious moment of the celebration.
The 15 graduates will all go on to different programs.
Some, like Daniel, will be mainstreamed at a Bay Ridge public school, while others will continue in specialized programs.
Antoine Grey, whose son, Antoine Jr., 5, is both blind and autistic, was nostalgic about leaving the comfort of Helen Keller. “It’s scary going into the real world. The teachers here have become like surrogate parents to Antoine.”
For Daniel’s mother, the boy’s accomplishments held out the promise of a bright future. “I think Daniel is going to accomplish a lot in his life,” she said.