‘Teacher of the Week’ helps blind and visually-impaired students in New Hanover County
CAROLINA BEACH, NC (WWAY) — Teachers have a unique way of helping students experience the world around them in a whole new way.
Recently, we met a teacher who does that in a special way for blind or visually-impaired students enrolled in New Hanover County Schools.
Lucas Benton is one of those students. Unlike other children in his first-grade class at Carolina Beach Elementary School, Lucas relies on his fingers to help him learn about the world around him.
Gina Benton is Lucas’ grandmother.
“Our son passed away in 2014 and Lucas is his son,” she said. ” We have had custody and guardianship of Lucas since 2014.”
Benton says Lucas was born completely blind.
“When he became about 18 months old, we noticed he started getting a little bit of sight out of his lower-left eye, about the size of a straw circle,” she said.
When Lucas was in preschool, Gina and her husband, David, had to decide where to send their grandson to school. One option was the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, but the Bentons wanted to keep their grandson close to their home in Carolina Beach.
Since Lucas started kindergarten at Carolina Beach Elementary School last year, he has been surrounded by a network of teachers and staff willing to help him adjust to school.
One of those teachers is Courtney Graham and she comes to the school a few times each week.
“Ms. Graham has been teaching me a lot of stuff,” Lucas Benton said.
Graham has been with New Hanover County Schools for about 20 of her 30-year teaching career. As a vision-impaired specialist, Graham travels across the district working with nearly a half dozen blind or visually-impaired students.
“Mostly with Lucas, we work on Braille instruction and I am also an orientation and mobility specialist, so I am teaching him to use his cane and how to figure out where he is so that he can get around independently,” Graham said.
Principal Deanna Leake says Graham’s expertise has been an invaluable resource for staff at the school.
“We didn’t know anything about brailing but because of Courtney’s support, the staff working with Lucas has learned about Brailing and has learned how to support him throughout the day with the foundations that she’s teaching him,” said Leake.
She was thrilled to learn we received a ‘Teacher of the Week’ nomination for Graham.
“It’s not just about celebrating her hard work and progress but its celebrating the hard work of Lucas, and his family, and the staff that are supporting him and lighting the way for him,” Leake said.
Graham adapts Lucas’ lessons with a Braille writing machine which is similar to a typewriter for writing texts in Braille.
“This school has been amazing and accepting of Lucas,” Benton said. “Courtney has been a big part of not only helping Lucas adjust to the school but teaching us how to care and help with the education at home.”
This was especially important during the pandemic and remote learning.
“Every Monday she [Graham] would drop off materials that he would need for the whole week and a lot of those materials were handmade – tactile things that Courtney made herself,” Benton said.
Graham says she’s delighted knowing her students are included in a regular classroom setting and treated like one of the other kids at their school.
“So they’re reading Braille, so they’re feeling their pictures instead of looking at their pictures, they just think it’s great that they get the opportunity to just be a kid,” Graham said.
If you know a great teacher like Graham, click here to send us a nomination. Each week’s winner receives a $100 gift card thanks to our partners Down East Heating and Air Conditioning.