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The City Journals

Teacher, community rally to find tools to support blind kindergartner’s learning

Feb 26, 2019 03:34PM ● By Julie Slama

Welby kindergarten teacher Janie Lauritzen helps student Andrew Godrey read the book she gave him with the help of a closed-circuit TV that enlarges words so he can see. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

When Welby kindergarten teacher Janie Lauritzen was approached by her principal asking if she would be willing to teach a legally blind boy this school year, she wasn’t so sure she was the right teacher. The 19-year veteran teacher hadn’t taught a student like him.

Andrew Godrey was born with coloboma, which caused a hole to form in his retina. In his good eye, he can see 20/200, but in his other eye, he sees 20/500.

“He can see colors, but shapes and letters are blurry, and he lacks depth perception,” said his father, Benjamin. “He wears glasses mostly to protect his eyes.”

Luckily, Andrew doesn’t have any mental disabilities or heart defects that are common with the disease, according to his father, who said the disease affects less than one in every 10,000 births.

But it wasn’t Andrew’s disability Lauritzen saw, it was his ability.

“He would put his head right down on the table to try to see the letters, the words,” she said. “Here’s this incredibly bright boy who can change lives, but we weren’t giving him the tools to learn. How could I not help him?”

Lauritzen said she was given a magnifying ruler to help Andrew, which “did almost nothing” so she started researching what else she could provide the kindergartner. After talking to his mother, Tara, she learned about CCTV — closed-circuit television, which has a video magnifier that projects an enlarged image onto a 27-inch screen so Andrew can see the same material as his classmates. 

Armed with that information she found the right tool for Andrew, and knowing the cost could reach upward of $4,000, Lauritzen said she approached Jordan Education Foundation Director Steven Hall. 

“She first approached me, and I told her I wished we could help, but we seldom, if ever, allot that much money for an individual student,” Hall said. “But that teacher was persistent; she didn’t take no for an answer. Janie Lauritzen is an amazing teacher that saw the potential of that student and said, ‘We can do better than what we’re doing; we should do everything we can to help him.’ She said that he wanted to learn so badly, and with the use of a CCTV, it would allow him to read and help him learn. It touched our hearts.”

Hall observed Andrew in the classroom and on the playground, where after just one day, he had memorized the schoolyard and felt comfortable to play without using his cane. 

“Andrew is determined to be as good as everyone else,” he said. “He was a friend to everyone, and I could see exactly what the teacher described. He could accomplish great things if given the tools to help him.”

Hall then spoke to Merit Medical officials, who were interested in supporting this little boy. It resulted in their donation of a CCTV for Andrew to use for schooling.

“The CCTV will change his life and that of his parents forever more,” Lauritzen said. 

After receiving the CCTV in late December, Andrew is showing the promise his teacher predicted.

“He’s reading above grade level, and his writing is greatly improving,” she said, adding that he continues to spend an hour four times per week learning Braille.

Andrew, using his CCTV to read the book, “Sneezy the Snowman,” his teacher gave him for the winter break, understands the donation has been a life-changing difference.

“I’m able to see what my classmates see now,” he said. “I wasn’t able to before.”

At the recent Jordan Education Foundation donor appreciation luncheon, Andrew spoke to hundreds of business and education leaders to show his appreciation.

“I have a hard time seeing the same things my friends do,” Andrew said. “This is why I love my CCTV. It helps me see things a lot better. It even makes it easier to do my homework. I used to have to put books really close to my eyes, but now I can read books just like my friends. I love to read now, and I can even see the pictures. I also like to write and color pictures with my CCTV. I even wrote a letter to Santa with it.”

The luncheon showcased a variety of ways Jordan Education Foundation has partnered with businesses and schools to provide for students to support Jordan School District’s motto, “every child, every day.” 

For five years, Jordan Education Foundation has partnered with Gordmans and South Jordan Chamber of Commerce to provide gifts for middle and high school students with its Christmas for Kids program. The program began with providing for 40 kids but now reaches 300 students, and local community and business leaders volunteer to shop with a student, said Gordmans general manager Brian Synan, who also serves on the Jordan Education Foundation Board and the Chamber. 

“It’s not only providing them with gifts, but there’s a mentoring piece to it,” he said. “These students are getting to be influenced by the police chief or the mayor, and at the same time, they are so excited to get their own pillow or lamp. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Another Jordan Education Foundation booth showcased how it helps students who need eye exams and glasses or can help with basic health expenses for qualified students who have other health concerns.  Other booths showed how people have donated, including Bingham High students through their True Blue fundraiser, food items, personal hygiene items and weekend packs for principal’s pantries, which are located in every school.

Oquirrh Hills Middle School demonstrated how it put the Foundation’s STEM funding to use in its FIRST LEGO league robotics program. Other schools may use it toward after-school programs as well as classroom projects.  

The Foundation also provides classroom grants for teachers to purchase books, materials and equipment to better teach students.

Jordan District Superintendent Patrice Johnson said it is through the generosity of donors and the Foundation that students can better reach their potential.

“Jordan Education Foundation makes it possible to elevate a trajectory of students’ future,” she said. “They’re able to fill in the gaps with resources to lift them to give them optimal success in life.”

Hall said the event was a way to honor and thank donors and show how they can make a difference in students’ lives.

“We appreciate the groups, individuals, businesses, community and education leaders and everyone who steps up, understands what the Foundation does and how it can impact our students,” he said.

For Lauritzen, she fully understands that impact.

“This boy captured my heart and now, he’s captured those of the community,” she said. “He changed how I taught and who I am.”