Seeing beyond obstacles

Jessica Patterson Special to The Register

August 27, 2013

POINT PLEASANT — Students in Mason County have finished the first week of school, and are starting new lessons, but employee, Vanessa Harper, said one student learns new material in two ways.

“What everyone else learns, she has to learn it twice,” Harper said. “She not only has to learn it the way everyone else does, but she has to learn in Braille, as well.”

Harper, a Braille specialist, has worked with Cierra Rollins, a legally blind fifth-grade student at Roosevelt Elementary, for four years.

“She’s a bright, bright girl,” Harper said. “She has come a long way from where she started. She’s been a blessing in my life.”

Paige Roush, Cierra’s mother and first grade teacher at Roosevelt, said her daughter has been blind since birth and has had three eye muscle surgeries to help adjust nystagmus and tighten the muscles in her eyes. Roush said Cierra was also born with Optic nerve hypoplasia, which makes information unable to flow from the eye to the brain.

“She’s overcome a lot of obstacles. She’s learning Braille and reads it pretty fluently for her grade level,” Roush said. “She’s also learned the math Braille and does it really well.”

Cierra said she likes school, especially math, as well as swinging with her friends at recess and playing games on her iPad.

“I like math a lot,” Cierra said. “You get to do a lot of fun stuff.”

Joann Cullen, Cierra’s fifth grade teacher, said having a student use Braille is a new experience for her.

“She has a great sense of humor and will pick up on things other students might miss,” Cullen said. “She is very witty and in tune to things and pays attention. She’s going to listen more, because she has to rely upon her hearing rather than her sight.”

Robin Casto, who was Cierra’s fourth grade teacher, said she liked having Cierra in class which had been a learning experience for her.

“Cierra was a joy to have in class. She is funny, she is determined and she works hard. There were not really a lot of challenges. Her aid was there to help her with things,” Casto said. “Sometimes I would get confused with normal directions and just say, ‘put your name up here,’ but ‘up here’ is not a concept necessarily that she understands, because she can’t always see what you are talking about. They had to train me to be detailed with instructions.”

Roush said because Cierra cannot see in class, she listens and does a lot of work by memory.

“She does really well. She has a wonderful memory,” Roush said. “She can remember where things are placed, which helps her a lot, and uses a cane for areas she’s not really sure about, such as stores and malls.”

Cierra said she has a special way to remember her way around Wal-Mart, including Braille maps.

“We give the walls different letters – A, B, C, and D,” Cierra said. “‘A’ is the food section, ‘B’ is the TV wall, and ‘C’ is where they keep the plants. We feel our Braille maps to remember where each thing is, and make little labels for where the things are.”

“To watch her, you would never know that she has a disability,” Roush said. “She’s just an amazing kid. She takes things in stride and doesn’t let her disability hold her back. It amazes me every day at what she has overcome. If she wants to do something, she finds away to do it.”

Roush said Cierra has also entered pageants, including the Mothman Festival where she won crowd favorite.

“We found the Pure American Girl Pageants, which has a section for disabled students. She won the state of West Virginia as the National Inspiration Queen, and she went on to Tennessee and was selected as the National Inspiration Princess,” Roush said. “ I think it really helps with her self esteem, and lets her know that she can do that and she can achieve whatever she wants.”

Roush also said she and Cierra go to the School for the Deaf and Blind in Romney about once a year to seminars and get-togethers for parents of children with similar disabilities and lets the children meet each other.