Braille Challenge Teacher of the Year 2018-03-05T15:11:43+00:00

Teacher of the Year for Excellence in Braille Instruction

Every 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! For more information, contact Christine Pak (323) 663-1111 ext. 1321 or email at cpak@brailleinstitute.org

Nominate a TVI

The 2017 Teacher of the Year is Jacinda Danner from Palmer, Alaska. 

Jacinda L. Danner, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Orientation and Mobility Specialist
Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, Palmer, Alaska

Jacinda was nominated by Brandee Vandermark, a student’s mother, who says Jacinda has played a major role in helping her daughter 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 for 25 years now, and she has taught at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District for 17 years.

In addition to being an excellent Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Ms. Danner is a state-wide contractor for infant toddler services through AVISION, LLC Alaska Vision Impairment Services and Instruction, a company she founded in 2011, sometimes traveling to students and families in rural Alaska villages in single-propeller airplanes. She has also served as the president of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) in Alaska and has edited and published articles about service delivery for youth with vision loss.

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 Borought 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.”

Edie Goldman, Teacher of the Visually Impaired
New York Institute for Special Education, NYC-Bronx, NY 

Edie Goldman was nominated by Rachel Bodek. She has a visually impaired son and crossed paths with Edie when networking with other parents on a teleconference support group she coordinates. She says “Edie is always ready to help and provide resources and information to assist us in advocating for our visually impaired children. Despite of her hectic work schedule, Edie spares no effort or time to advise and guide anyone who reaches out to her”.

Ms. Goldman works with the youngest students at NYISE and uses innovative strategies to teach them Braille. One of her most recognized techniques uses a multisensory approach in which her children use different parts of their bodies to tap out the sounds of a word while simultaneously reading the braille word with their other hand.

In addition to English braille, Edie also teaches Hebrew and Yiddish braille. She runs workshops and tutorials for parents in both English and Hebrew braille and has also trained other TVIs. She is particularly admired by students and parents for going out of her way to teach. She’s traveled to other states and even to Canada and England to teach Hebrew braille. One of her students says Edie is “the matriarch of Hebrew braille in the United States”.

Edie earned her Masters degree from the Masters Program for Teachers of the Visually Impaired and the Blind at Hunter College and is certified in Braille Transcribing by the Library of Congress.

Cynthia Lopez, Teacher of the Visually Impaired at Dale Junior High School and Chair of the VI Program for the Anaheim School District
Anaheim, CA

Cynthia Lopez was nominated by Marion Dawirs, a LOC Certified Braille Transcriber, who says that Cynthia always makes sure that students are intellectually challenged and fights actively for what they need to reach their goals through High School and beyond.

Cynthia is currently Chair of the VI Program for the Anaheim Union High School District and she has taught students with visual impairments for seventeen years at Dale Junior High School. 50% of the students who pass through Cynthia’s program go on to college! Several of Cynthia’s colleagues, who have worked closely with her, emphasize how exceptional she is when it comes to managing the specific needs of each of her students with visual impairments. She also mentors other students on campus and gives them insights into teaching students with visual impairments, encouraging them to consider a career in the field.

Cynthia earned her Masters in Special Education from California State University in Los Angeles and her Bachelors in Liberal Studies from California State University of Long Beach. She is credentialed in Visual Impairments and is a Mild/Moderate Specialist.

Lori Mattick, Transition Teacher/Teacher of the Visually Impaired
Employability Center at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, Colorado Springs, CO 

Lori is a Teacher of the Visually Impaired at the Employability Center at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. She works in a transition program called “Bridge to Life” with students who have met the requirements for graduation, but have chosen to attend the program to focus on independent living skills, post-secondary education goals, and employment skills and opportunities.

Lori is involved in many endeavors. She teaches Braille to students who are just beginning to learn Braille, as well as to students who already have solid reading and writing skills but need some instruction and exposure to the new UEB code. She is admired, by colleagues and students’ parents, for working one-on-one with her students to make sure they get everything they need to be successful in their activities.

Lori received her Masters in Special Education from the University of South Dakota and her Bachelors of Education from the University of Saskatchewan.

The main consideration for Lori’s lessons and materials are their meaningfulness within the community. She believes “the classroom has its uses however the community is the actual classroom”.

Gayla Dunn, Teacher of the Visually Impaired
Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired, Kansas City, MO

Gayla Dunn was nominated by Jenna Franklin, mother of one of her students. Gayla is admired for personalizing activities for her students’ needs, enabling them to participate to the best of their abilities and have comprehension of activities.

At the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired, Gayla serves children from infancy to age eight, not only with visual impairments but with all different types of physical and intellectual disabilities. Kids are eligible to the preschool program at the age of two so the first teacher they encounter is Ms. Dunn, who helps them develop the skills they need to learn braille. By the time a child graduates from her class, they have touched, listened and looked at so many real objects, books and textures, that braille comes next in a natural progression, thanks to Ms. Dunn’s teaching.

“Gayla truly has the most challenging classroom at CCVI, but she displays the patience and compassion that these young children need” said one of her student’s mother.

Rachel Heuser, Teacher of the Visually Impaired 
Capistrano Unified School District, San Clemente, CA

Rachel Heuser was nominated by Christine Schweer, the mother of one of her students, who says Rachel is not only a teacher, but also a mentor, role-model and invaluable resource to children, parents and colleagues.

Rachel is passionate about creating an environment where learning to read and write braille is fun. She uses an assortment of methods and curriculum to teach braille concepts to children. Serving students from pre-school through adult transition, her methods are dependent on the age of the students. Ms. Heuser also understands that social and emotional health are just as important as learning and she helps students show their “sighted” peers what they learn.

Rachel earned her MA in Special Education from California State University, her Masters of Education from the National Louis University and her Bachelors of Science from the University of Oregon.

Rachel’s greatest legacies are her students. In the words of a former student who is a former National Braille Challenge winner in both the Junior Varsity and Varsity divisions: “My life would not be the same without braille. Because of braille, I made it through law school; because of braille, I have a full-time job today. Because of Rachel Heuser, I learned braille and have come this far…”

Julie Burger, Consultant for the Visually Impaired
Livonia Public Schools, Livonia, MI

Julie Burger was nominated by Annika Arney, one of her students.

Julie is an individual who thinks outside the box and uses innovative strategies. She is an advocate of her students, helping them interpret the curve balls life has thrown. Through her teaching career she has been on, and held numerous roles on, committees such as Department Chair for the Visually Impaired Program and Wayne County Common Core Vocabulary Team.

Her colleagues find when they come to her for advice she always makes time to brainstorm solutions or offer suggestions. She mentors new teachers, sharing her contagious dedication and enthusiasm to the field.

Julie earned her Master of Technology Education at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan, after completing her major in Special Education for the Visually Impaired at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

“Mrs. Burger has improved not only my classroom experience, but my life, too,” said Annika Arney. “She is more than just a teacher to me. She is my friend.”

Kateri Gulifor, Teacher of the Visually Impaired
Huntley Community School District, Twin Lakes, WI

Kateri Gulifor was nominated Deidra Cravens, the mother of one of her students, who says Kateri “is a one in a million teacher”.

Kateri provides a nurturing environment for her students to reach their fullest potential. Well versed in braille instruction she works with students from preschool to high school with varying eye conditions and concomitant disabilities. She also stays involved with the surrounding communities and provides applications and information pertaining to conferences, camps and enrichment opportunities for her students and their teachers.

Kateri graduated with a B.S. in Education at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. She went on to complete her Masters of Science in Education at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illionois, and her Graduate Certificate, EL VISTA Program, at Illinois State University.

“She has been a valuable resource, teacher and liaison, as my son has learned to live and grow with his vision loss,” said Deidra Cravens. “Because of her, Owen is a regular teenager, living in a regular world where he sees things differently than the regular people around him.”


Past “Teacher of the Year” winners

  • 2016 – Christian Keith, California
  • 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