Program allows blind kids to stay, learn in community
KINGMAN – Felix Mendoza Jr., 8, allowed Kathy Grenda to guide his hands over padded oval, rectangular and square shapes Tuesday in what might be considered a game.
But the game is an important learning process for Felix, who was born blind with detached retinas.
He attends Palo Christi School, where Grenda and Carla Matthews work with him four days per week for two and a half hours per day during the summer.
Grenda is a teacher for the visually impaired and Matthews is her assistant.
Both are based in Flagstaff and work for the North Central Co-Op of the Arizona School for the Deaf & Blind.
"Blind children don't know what they're touching," Grenda said.
"You have to get them used to feeling textures, listening to music and following directions.
"Felix is working with the number 6 a lot.
There are six spots in a Braille cell and you must have sensitive fingers to be able to track the spots and read."
Felix had a good deal of tactile discrimination – a sense of touch – when Grenda and Matthews began working with him, but he has come to a point of trust where he allows them to put his hands into anything.
The two teachers also work with a blind girl in Dolan Springs two days per week for four hours per day.
Grenda has nearly 20 years experience in special education.
She taught 10 years in the Kingman Elementary School District prior to unification and four years at the Kingman Academy of Learning.
She joined the Arizona School for the Deaf & Blind five years ago.
"I work with kids between 3 and 22 years of age," Grenda said.
"Some have multiple disabilities that include being visually impaired or blind, some degree of retardation and cerebral palsy."
Grenda said she earned a bachelor's degree in elementary and special education from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire and a master's in special education from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
She took classes at the University of Arizona to earn state certification as a teacher of visually impaired children.
She worked at La Senita Elementary School about 15 years ago and had a blind pupil for two years.
That boy later went to a state school for the deaf and blind in Tucson, which made Grenda recognize the need in Mohave County for teachers who could address such disabilities.
"A lot of people have blind kids and they don't want to send them to a school in Tucson," Grenda said.
"We keep them here and provide the services they need."
Felix and the girl in Dolan Springs attend regular classes during the school year.
But what they gain during the summer in extended school is vital.
There are two criteria for attendance in extended school.
If a child is at a critical learning stage and doing well, you don't want a break in the learning process during summer break, Grenda said.
The other consideration is how much the special-needs child might regress by taking the standard summer vacation and then having to re-learn many things when classes resume in late summer.
"Eighty-five percent of what we learn is visual, so take away sight and you're at a big disadvantage," Grenda said.
"You can show a blind child a model airplane.
But he must touch and hear it before he understands it's an airplane."