Teacher of the Year for Excellence in Braille InstructionEvery year, Braille Institute recognizes teachers of the visually impaired for their hard work, dedication, and innovation. The Teacher of the Year for Excellence in Braille Instruction award is an opportunity for all Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs) to be recognized on a national level for the indelible contribution they make on students who are blind or have severe vision loss.
Any teacher of the visually impaired in the US or Canada can be nominated by peers, students, or others. The Teacher of the Year is selected by The Braille Challenge National Advisory Committee.
Keith Christian was awarded the 2016 Teacher of the Year for Excellence in Braille Instruction on June 18 in Los Angeles.
Keith Christian - 2016 Teacher of the Year Winner
Keith Christian, Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments,
Anaheim City School District, California
Keith Christian has been a teacher of the visually impaired for 20 years, 7 years in LAUSD at Nobel Middle school teaching grades 6, 7 and 8 and 13 years in Anaheim Elementary School District teaching grades K-6.
As a VI teacher who himself is visually impaired, Keith has been a mentor and role model for countless students and serves as an example for parents, proving that their children can achieve anything they want to if they are willing to work hard and learn the necessary skills for success. He works tirelessly to ensure that his students have the braille and technology skills they need to be successful in life. He wants his students to be strong academically and have a strong work ethic.
Keith has been a highly respected member of the VI community and recognized expert in adaptive technology since he began teaching 20 years ago. He is an invaluable resource for VI teachers all over southern California and is always quick to offer his help to anyone struggling to keep up with the constantly changing technology that is so crucial for our students’ success. He has been a part of the Braille Challenge every year since its inception, and is a regular presenter at CTEBVI. He guest lectures in the VI program at Cal State Los Angeles regularly and has hosted groups of students in their technology class in his classroom.
Keith’s greatest accomplishment and the one of which he is most proud is his amazing wife of 26 years, Diane, and his two beautiful children, Nicole and Shawn.
Jacinda Danner - 2016 Teacher of the Year Nominee
Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, Palmer, Alaska
Jacinda was nominated by Brandee Vandermark, a student’s parent, who says that Jacinda has played a major role in ensuring that her daughter has become the intelligent, independent, and caring young lady she is today.
Jacinda has been a leader in the field of visual impairment promoting braille literacy in schools, the community, and the entire State of Alaska. She works closely with the Assistive Technology and Information Technology Department in her school district to use technology to provide access to curriculum to support students with print disabilities, including braille readers, students with visual impairment and, those with learning disabilities. She also serves on a committee established to refine and create policies and procedures for Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) for the State of Alaska.
She earned her Masters Degree in Visual Disabilities from the University of Northern Colorado along with a Bachelors Degree in Educational Visually Impaired Orientation and Mobility from Florida State University.
In a letter to support her nomination, Dennis Boyer (Behavioral Health Supervisor for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District) said, “I have found that Jacinda is distinguished by her ability to focus on the minutia of her immediate work with students, while concurrently visualizing efforts have certainly promoted braille not only for the blind but also sighted family members, peers, school staff, and other community members.”
Louis Flickinger - 2016 Teacher of the Year Nominee
Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative, Minnesota
Louis Flickinger was nominated by colleagues at the Minnesota Special Education Directors Regions 5 and 7. She is admired by colleagues who say she is the go-to resource for both students and staff.
Louise is described as gracious and always going above and beyond what is needed. She currently works as the Vision Impairment Specialist for the Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative in Brainerd, Minnesota. In addition to teaching braille reading and writing, she also prepares students for transition services working with outside agencies and counselors. She is instrumental in setting up programs in schools for braille production, including training staff.
Parents admire her for her commitment to her students. It’s not uncommon to see her with students before and after school, during the summer and at various extracurricular events.
Louise earned her M.S. in Special Education from St. Cloud State University. She also earned her Bachelor of Elective Studies with an emphasis on Special Education from St. Cloud State University.
Quoted from her nomination statement: ““Louise believes whole-heartedly in the ability of every student she works with. She has mastered the art of being very firm with them, pushing them to be independent and advocates for themselves, but with a sense of humor and a knowledge of what motivates them as a person.”
Carol Gamble - 2016 Teacher of the Year Nominee
Maryland School for the Blind
Carol Gamble was nominated by a colleague at the Maryland School for the Blind. She is admired for thoughtfully aligning classroom instruction with the strengths and needs of her students.
Carol makes learning braille fun for her students by designing creative lessons in reading and vocabulary using dot riddles. Carol is not only instrumental in the classroom, but with her colleagues by providing professional development. She creates and administers braille exams for teachers seeking recertification and serves as a “Braille Help Desk” for staff.
She also is known for supporting the sighted family members of her students by creating print versions of braille homework which encourage parents to help their children and monitor their progress. Additionally, Carol is instrumental in helping students and staff transition to UEB, as a member of the Maryland State UEB transition work group.
Carol earned her M.S. in Special Education with an emphasis in Visual Impairment from The Johns Hopkins University. She also earned a B.A. in Mathematics from Goucher College.
Quoted from her nomination statement: “Carol values her relationships with her students and she provides them with the support, encouragement, and expectations to be confident and successful students and individuals.”
Jonathan Graves - 2016 Teacher of the Year Nominee
Foundation for Blind Children, Phoenix, Arizona
Jonathan was nominated by Cody Franklin, Youth & Family Services Director, Foundation for Blind Children. As part of his letter of recommendation, Cody highlighted a recent project introduced by Jonathan, “During our 2016 Arizona Cane Quest, Jonathan presented a Braille 101 workshop to parents. During this workshop, parents were given the opportunity to braille a congratulations note to their children who were Cane Quest contestants.”
When asked about the importance of braille literacy Jonathan added, “Teaching Braille literacy is the cornerstone of my interaction with students. With the youngest students, I introduce concepts of phonemic awareness through a variety of real-world activities that combine language and literacy through highly motivating subject matter.”
Jonathan is completing his Masters in Education in Vision Studies. He has also studied abroad in Tunisia and Egypt and earned his Bachelors from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He also completed coursework on International Studies and Conflict Resolution at the University of Oregon.
Jonathan has introduced creative lesson plans to help encourage braille literacy. He recently started a pen pal group between sighted and visually impaired students. He has taught one student braille music well as learning and preparation techniques to help his students be as prepared as their peers. He has encouraged all of his students to use iPads and either large print books or refreshable braille devices so that they can read braille at the same time that their sighted peers are reading and making notes in braille. He is an active supporter of Cane Quest and other local programs that encourage involvement and learning among visually impaired students.
Carol Green - 2016 Teacher of the Year Nominee
New Mexico Municipal Schools Special Services, Farmington, New Mexico
Carol was nominated by a colleague who says she is an exceptional teacher and relentless advocate for her students, working across educational, home and community environments to provide students with vision loss as well as well as those with other disabilities tools to succeed.A braille user herself, Carol has not only promoted braille and tactile graphics with her students and their parents. She is a champion for accessible technology and has been used as an example of excellence for the State of New Mexico.
Carol is also commended for her creation of a Navajo Braille Code, which she presented to the Navajo Nation for approval in Fall 2015 after working with other professionals and a linguist scholar. Additionally, because her elementary student is bilingual, she teaches both Spanish and English literary braille, along with Nemeth and Music Braille.
Carol earned her MA in Special Education from New Mexico State University in Teaching Children who are Visually Impaired along with a BS in Elementary Education with an emphasis on ESL thanks to a Navajo Nation Scholarship she received.
Her students say that she is patient and makes learning fun with lessons about “real life situations” as well as traditional school lessons.
Kelly Ann Hendrickson - 2016 Teacher of the Year Nominee
Pinellas County Schools, Forest Lakes Elementary School, Florida
Kelly Ann Hendrickson was nominated by a colleague at Pinellas County Schools, Forest Lakes Elementary School. She is credited for her enthusiasm for teaching and her proactive approach to braille literacy.
She is admired by colleagues for understanding that technology is essential for the on-going success of her students. Thanks to her determination as an educator, most of her students are well versed with using their laptops, iPads, and braille displays.
Kelly Ann also works closely with the families of her students in helping to maintain braille literacy skills outside of the classroom. She also invites high school Braille readers to lead monthly meetings with her elementary students. They participate in various projects and educational games.
Additionally, Kelly was instrumental in developing an extended school year program, helping students maintain their braille skills throughout the summer. The program is now referred to as “Braille Camp”.
Kelly earned her M.Ed. in Visual Disabilities from Florida State University and is Certified in Orientation and Mobility. She also earned her B.S. in Visual Disabilities from Florida State University.
Quoted from her nomination statement: ““Kelly establishes trust and a positive rapport with her students’ families. She easily connects with them, is empathetic, and works with parents to help maintain continuity in her students’ educational development at school as well as on the home front.“
Jeri Hile - 2016 Teacher of the Year Nominee
Shawnee Mission School District, Shawnee Mission, Kansas
Jeri was nominated by Christy Keller of the Shawnee Mission School District. Christy says “Jeri constantly thinks out of the box to offer ideas and suggestions to help students further understand the concepts that a visual learner sees. One example of Jeri thinking outside the box is that she arranges tactile tours with museums so that her students have a hands on approach to learning and so that they have every opportunity to see what all of the other students are seeing.”
Jeri has a special interest in mathematics. She explains “I majored in math in college and I think it has a beauty in its predictability and patterns. However, I never realized how visual math is until I began working with students who were blind or severely visually impaired. So my passion is to bring the beauty of math to my students.”
Jeri received her Masters Degree in Special Education with an emphasis on Visual Impairments from Missouri State University, along with a Bachelors Degree in Mathematics from University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, MO.
As part of a letter of support for Jeri’s nomination, a parent added “Our daughter says that with the math skills she learned, she was able to help tutor a sighted peer in her class who didn’t understand what was taught!”
Cynthia Lopez - 2016 Teacher of the Year Nominee
Dale Junior High School, Anaheim Union High School District, California
Cynthia is chair of the Vision Impairment program at the Anaheim Unified High School District with a case load of 24 students. She earned her Masters in Special Education from California State University of Los Angeles along her Bachelors in Liberal Studies from California State University of Long Beach. She is credentialed in Visual Impairments and is a Mild/Moderate Specialist.
Her student Evelyn M. adds: “I love how she motivates me, and helps me push past my usual grade. I am pretty sure that without her I wouldn't be at the grade point average I have now. She is overall an amazing teacher and I am very lucky to have her at my school.”
Cynthia is proud to be known for her teaching expertise, enthusiasm, flexibility, patience, commitment and purpose. Together these traits have helped her modify curriculum to encourage success, integrate technology and take a proactive role as a communicator and collaborator with students, staff and parents.
Cynthia was nominated by Braille Transcriber, Marion Dawirs, who states, “The essential fact about her is that 50% of the students who pass through her program go on to college! Her junior high program is that important bridge from elementary to high school, where students set future goals and develop skills to reach them. Ms. Lopez lays the roadmap for students to navigate successfully through high school so they’re positioned to realize their dreams. She’s vigilant about ensuring students are intellectually challenged, whatever their ability.”
Beth Newman - 2016 Teacher of the Year Nominee
School District #72, British Columbia, Canada
Beth was co-nominated by colleagues who say she is a tireless advocate of full literacy for students who are blind or visually impaired. She has worked with students across British Columbia, encouraging them to use their skills inside and outside the classroom.
Beth is also commended for learning how to navigate the accessibility features of various i-Devices and using social media to help her students maintain their skills with peers. She is also credited for her involvement in community-based projects and initiatives. Beth volunteers at early intervention camps through the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and participates in youth leadership training offered by Blind Beginnings.
Among her accomplishments, Beth is the former President of the BC Vision Teachers’ Association and has served the BC/Yukon chapter of AER.
Beth earned her diploma at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. in Education of the Blind and Visually Impaired. She also earned her B.A. in Psychology from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.
Quoted from her nomination statement: “What has been described paints a picture of a highly talented, dedicated educator who is always looking beyond the traditional roles and responsibilities of the teacher of students with visual impairment to see the bigger picture, where these students have the knowledge and ability to make meaningful contributions to life at home and in their communities.”
Dr. Kay Marie Pruett - 2016 Teacher of the Year Nominee
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Dr. Pruett was nominated by the Principal of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He credits her with using innovative strategies to help students struggling with braille reading. In her quest to improve their skills, she searched for phonics materials in braille and discovered the Readers for the Wilson Reading System (WRS), a structured, phonics-based method of teaching remedial reading, available through the American Printing House for the Blind.
She is also credited for furthering braille literacy by designing and leading braille awareness lessons for sighted students who attend classes with students from the Texas School for the Blind. Additionally, she has provided opportunities for participants in TSBVI’s mentor center to observe in her classes.
Additionally, Dr. Pruett was selected as the 2014 Principals of Schools for the Blind Outstanding Teacher and has obtained her Texas Master Reading Teacher certification.
Dr. Pruett earned her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco State University in the Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education. She also earned her M.A. at the University of Northern Colorado in Special Education: Visually Handicapped, Orientation and Mobility, and Severely/Profoundly Handicapped Blind. She earned her B.A. at the University of Northern Colorado in Special Education: Acoustically Handicapped and Elementary Education.
Quoted from her nomination statement: “She has not only been an excellent teacher of braille for our students, but also an outstanding supporter of the Braille Challenge in sponsoring student participation.”
Carrie Swaney - 2016 Teacher of the Year Nominee
Millard Public Schools, Omaha, Nebraska
Carrie was nominated by the parents of one of her students. They moved from Moscow two years ago and within the short time of her working with their son, he has learned to read English books and write English braille proficiently. He says that he loves to work with Carrie. His parents add that braille is Carrie’s passion and they see that she loves teaching her students and watching them grow.
Carrie earned her degree in Vision Endorsement with a Masters in Special Education from University of Nebraska at Lincoln. She also attended Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, Missouri.
Patricia Leader - 2015 Teacher of the Year - Winner
Patricia Leader, VI/O&M Specialist,
SELPA II Program in Visual Impairments, Cupertino School District, California
Pat was co-nominated by the President of the American Foundation for the Blind and the Superintendent emeritus of the California School for the Blind. She is recognized as a strong proponent of the braille code and an active leader in professional organizations both nationally and in her community.
Pat combines her knowledge and expertise in braille with creativity and passion for teaching. Colleagues describe her as energetic and dedicated – putting students at the top of her priority list. As the VI/O&M Specialist and Coordinator for SELPA II Program in Visual Impairments at the Cupertino School District, Pat teaches preschool through post-secondary students. She is admired by her peers for developing her own tactile materials to encourage exploration and engagement. She also provides supervision of the VI Program for instructional assistants and staff.
Pat is admired for going the extra mile in providing daily support for students and their families, as well as her own colleagues. Students say she encourages them to be independent, confident, and self-advocating. She ensures that all her students have course materials in braille and has access to large collections of books. She encourages them to read as much as possible.
Among several accomplishments, Pat is the former President of AER, a Trustee for the American Foundation for the Blind Board of Directors, a Life Member of the California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped, and a member of the National Braille Challenge Contest Development Team. She has volunteered as a Proctor at both the regional level and national finals. Additionally, she is an Adjunct Professor at San Francisco State University in Advanced Communication Skills for Learners with Visual Impairments.
Pat earned her M.A. from San Francisco State University and graduated Magna Cum Laude, with a major in Visual Impairments and a minor in Physically Handicapped. She also earned a B.S. from the University of Southern California.
Quoted from her nomination statement: “Everything that Pat does, she does well and with a whole and giving heart. It is the combination of excellence in direct service methodology coupled with her total devotion to her students and to our field that makes Pat so special.”
Past “Teacher of the Year” winners
- 2015 - Patricia Leader, California
- 2014 - Jan Zollinger, Idaho
- 2013 - Christine Short, Iowa
- 2012 - Dr. Laurel Hudson, Georgia
- 2011 - Trina Britcher, West Virginia
- 2010 - Rosalind Rowley, Massachusetts
- 2009 - Carolyn Mason, Texas
- 2008 - James Nezol, Oregon
- 2007 - Sandy Serventi, Florida
- 2006 - Graham Cook, British Columbia
- 2005 - Anna Swenson, Virginia