Sightless pupil, 11, and school adjusting 'Our goal was for her to be as normal as possible,' says mother

October 05, 1997|By Kristi E. Swartz | Kristi E. Swartz,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A bell rings, and students burst through the double doors of Magothy River Middle School's cafeteria, heading for afternoon classes.

As the commotion dies down, one of the doors opens again and a petite girl in a red sweater and plaid skirt emerges, pushing a white cane and feeling the wall on her way to class.

Laura-Sun Cefaratti makes it to social studies just before class begins. Some classmates watch her search through her backpack for a thick binder covered in Braille, but most turn back to the substitute teacher trying to keep them occupied.

Laura-Sun is adjusting to public school after a month in the sixth grade. The 11-year-old, who was born blind, attended the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore for the past six years.

There, she learned to read with her fingers and walk with a cane, but her parents, Dori and Jim Cefaratti, thought that it was time for her to switch from learning coping skills to learning academics, and that the best place for that was the middle school in Arnold.

The family met with a guidance counselor to figure out how to help Laura-Sun fit in and how to help the school staff adjust to teaching a blind student.

"We all held our breath the first day and that first week, but she's done well," said Dori Cefaratti, who has been blind since age 13.

"Our goal was for her to be as normal as possible," Cefaratti said. "It's a real taste of life for her, and it's a real stretch, but it's only to her benefit."

Despite her parents' efforts, Laura-Sun was afraid of Magothy River Middle. She worried about following a new and different schedule and about how lunch hour worked. And she wished it had a pool, like the School for the Blind has.

But things have been working out.

Laura-Sun takes the subjects other students do, sings in the chorus and plays the drums. She talks about a career in music, Dori Cefaratti said. But sometimes she also talks about becoming a radio announcer or going into science.

She takes classes for below-average students because she is behind in reading.

But she volunteers in class, and students like working with her on group projects, according to science teacher Dianne Myers.

Principal Dixie Stack -- also new to Magothy, having arrived after five years at a magnet school with mostly special-needs students -- was concerned but not anxious about Laura-Sun's ability to adapt.

"I wasn't as apprehensive as some people might have been," she said. "And kids are really good at adjusting to people if the opportunity to adjust is there."

The county's public schools serve 120 visually impaired students, eight of whom have serious vision problems and require full-time teaching aides.

No physical changes were needed at Magothy for Laura-Sun.

She is helped by two aides, one for Braille and one who teaches her to be more mobile.

Colleen Bell, one of the county's six teachers assigned to visually impaired students, spends part of the day with Laura-Sun and part of the day with another student who is legally blind. She also helps students at other schools.

Most of the aides help translate written material into Braille.

The students are divided equally among the teachers "so we can get everybody in," Bell said. Laura-Sun's mobility teacher, for example, is one of two in the county. She has to take care of half of the county's students who need help maneuvering around schools.

"The toughest part is learning the routes," Bell said. "And when the teachers write on the board, they also have to say it aloud or put it on a handout."

Laura-Sun needs to be more mobile with her cane, her mother said. Part of that involves using the cane properly, which means moving it from side to side, synchronized with the walking pace, instead of pushing it in front of her.

Laura-Sun understands the concept but is focusing simply on dTC trying to get to class on time, her mother said.

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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