IM this article to a friend!

December 29, 2002

St. Augustine school teaches industrial arts to deaf, blind

From: Sarasota Herald-Tribune, FL - 29 Dec 2002


Perched in front of a window smeared with sawdust, Adam Boyea ran his hands over wood and metal that he could not see.

Using his fingers as eyes, Boyea, a blind 12th grader at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, situated a wooden hexagon on a machine called the ring master and began to carve out a circle that would later be used as part of a plant stand.

Here in the industrial arts classes at the school, Boyea is just one of many students with disabilities who are given the chance to work with their hands, an opportunity teachers say builds confidence, self-esteem and professional skills and experience.

"When we're done with them we get to see how good we made them," Boyea said. "Yeah, it's pretty cool."

In the classroom of Ron Sass and George Smith, the industrial arts teachers in the state-funded school's Blind Department, students work on projects, built from scratch, that are as diverse as they are practical. Mountain dulcimers (wooden string instruments smaller than guitars), bird feeders and plant stands are all within the realm of creative possibility.

But extra care has to be taken, because many of Sass and Smiths students have two or three disabilities. Some have physical impairments; others have various ranges of vision and hearing loss.

Occasionally, Sass said, some of the students come into class frightened and unsure of themselves, in part because of their disabilities, but also because of the sometimes overwhelming cacophony of a shop class.

"A big part is just to get them not to be afraid," Sass said. "Get a little paint on them, get a little dirty. It'll wash off."

Some students, such as Boyea, are totally blind. Special accommodations are made in order for the students to function safely in the workshop. Jigs, clamps and other devices are designed to help the students saw planks of wood and then guide them toward sanders.

Sometimes, Sass said, he'll put his hands over a student's hands in order to guide them and get them used to a particular cutting motion.

"You just do repetitive stuff," he said. "It really depends on their ability and their experience."

Rulers with Braille are scattered about the room. Some make clicking noises, which allow blind students to accurately measure materials in increments as small as 1/16 of an inch, Smith said.

A 34-year veteran of the school, Smith has seen many students come and go. He knows how to kindle the hands-on drive so necessary to develop their inherent skills.

"My job is to help them overcome their handicaps," Smith said. "Every handicapped person can do something. Every handicap can be overcome. We have to find that way that they can do what they need to do."

For Matt Strobel, a visually impaired 10th grader, just to be able to work with his hands makes the class worthwhile.

Strobel was recently shaping and sanding the edges of rectangular wooden legs that would later be attached to the circles Boyea was working on across the room. Getting used to the different machines and skills required to use them hasn't been that daunting of a task, Strobel said.

"You learn pretty quickly how to use these things," he said.

Smith said it takes most students a few introductory sessions to adjust to the class. Blind certification and vocational certification are required to teach industrial arts classes to special needs students, Sass said.

"The one thing about the shop is we put sharp pointed tools in kids' hands, even blind kids," Sass said. "It's total chaos and a heck of a lot of noise ... but at least they're getting experience."

© Sarasota Herald-Tribune. All rights reserved.