Shana Miles, a Sandrock Elementary School paraprofessional, wasn’t aware a skill such as reading Braille could be learned online.
And then Moffat County School District administrators asked her to try.
“I’m using vision to learn it,” Miles said.
Miles began learning Braille over the summer through online classes at The Hadley School for the Blind.
Now, as a trained Braillist, Miles provides one-on-one instruction to Brayden Martinez, a vision-impaired student in Alegra Corey’s first-grade classroom.
Miles, a 2003 Moffat County High School graduate, said she came to the job and her new responsibilities in a roundabout manner.
After high school, Miles studied cosmetology at Colorado Northwest Community College, and then opened a salon in Steamboat Springs.
Miles said she felt “married” to the challenging business, so when she learned of an opportunity to travel the country with a furniture liquidation crew, she folded the salon and hit the road.
She traveled to New Mexico, Florida and eventually settled in Ohio. There, she worked as an optical technician.
“We had a lot of patients who were blind or had very little vision,” Miles recalled.
After a year-and-a-half in Ohio, however, Miles returned to Craig.
“I decided I missed home and came back,” Miles said.
“Last year, I was a para for special-needs students (at Sandrock). Then, because of my optical background, they asked me to learn Braille. … I said OK.”
Miles said it’s not too difficult to learn the Braille alphabet by sight, but feeling the raised dots on paper is another matter.
“It’s really hard for me to feel it,” Miles said. “So if I go blind, I’ll have to relearn how to do it.”
Her student, on the other hand, is quickly picking up the skill.
“I know with his little fingers he can feel all the different bumps,” Miles said.
Martinez, 6, was born with impaired vision. It is unknown whether his vision will improve or decline as he gets older, Miles said. At present, Martinez can see shapes, shadows and colors out of one eye.
“I paint my fingernails different colors and he looks closely at them,” Miles said of Martinez. “He tells me that Fridays they have to be blue because we wear blue every Friday. So if my nails aren’t blue on Friday, I get in trouble.”
Miles teaches Martinez math, reading and writing.
The writing is performed on a Braille writer — a typewriter that resembles a stenograph. By using different combinations of only nine keys on the Braille writer, Martinez can emboss paper with all the letters of the alphabet and numerals.
When it comes to learning, Miles said Martinez is just like other first-graders.
“He’s a regular 6-year-old boy,” Miles said. “He doesn’t want to do writing or reading or anything like that…he’d prefer to just play.”
“You know what?” Martinez said. “I don’t like Braille any days.”
The biggest challenge, Miles said, is getting Martinez to interact with fellow students.
Miles said that because Martinez spends so much time listening to his surroundings — particularly adults — he is verbally precocious. And his conversations with like-aged children can be unsatisfying for him.
“He’s more in tune with adults,” Miles said. “So when we’re on the playground, I try to send him out with other kids.”
Miles said other children at Sandrock are respectful of Martinez’s different abilities.
“In the classroom they are very respectful,” Miles said of Martinez’s fellow students. “There are also several students throughout the school that know him, that know he’s blind and they stop and talk to him.”
Miles said she thinks Martinez’s presence in the classroom enriches learning for other students.
One day, for instance, first-graders were blindfolded so they could experience daily life from Martinez’s perspective.
The children were asked to touch different types of food so they could experience Martinez’s tactile world. They also drew pictures blindfolded and learned to map the different pathways through the classroom tables by memory.
“After that day, the kids are much better at pushing in their chairs,” Miles said laughing.
Miles said spending so much time with Martinez has made them close.
“You do become very attached,” Miles said of their relationship. “I’m with him all day. I mother him sometimes, and I shouldn’t.”
“We’re just buddies,” Martinez said.