GRAVESEND — Fourth-graders at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy learned a lot about Helen Keller’s life and legacy during Women’s History Month lessons, including firsthand how Keller communicated.
Keller, who lost both her sight and hearing to illness when she was 19 months old, had to learn Braille — a nearly 200-year-old tactile reading system of six raised dots arranged in “cells” that can be read, using their fingertips, by people who are blind or visually impaired. The Our Lady Grace lessons culminated with 19 sighted students learning — with their eyes closed — to read and write their first and last names in Braille, using green pigeon peas for the dots.
The goal, explained fourth-grade teacher Christine Latona, was to highlight the challenges Keller endured throughout her life due to her disabilities.
“The students learned how difficult it is to communicate and write in Braille,” Latona said. “They also learned that no matter how difficult their life is, anything can be accomplished with hard work, dedication, and perseverance.”
Latona also told Currents News that the lesson served a deeper purpose: highlighting another form of communication that may not be often be considered.
“So many people struggle with not knowing how to communicate,” Latona explained, noting how many think of voice recordings, closed captioning, and sign language as other forms. “That is something that we really need to teach them now, and just knowing that there are so many different ways of expressing yourself. It’s not just verbal anymore.”
Keller, a devout Christian, became an author, activist for the disabled community, and co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920. In 1917, at age 37, Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, moved to Forest Hills, Queens, where Keller spent 21 years of her life. Though the gabled brick and limestone house located at 93 Seminole Avenue was destroyed by fire after Keller’s death in 1968, a plaque and large mural memorializing Keller are on display nearby.
“I learned that Helen Keller has been through a lot of obstacles, being blind and deaf at the same time,” said fourth-grader Mariam Egiazarian.
Our Lady of Grace Principal Kelly Wolf said she was proud to see the class embrace the hands-on Braille lesson as they studied Keller’s life.
“Something I communicate to the kids at all times is that we’re all different, and Jesus made us that way,” Wolf said, “but, He tells us to love one another, no matter what, each and every day.”
“I think they were most excited to actually write their names in Braille, and how they had to close their eyes and feel their name through,” Wolf added. “That was a very strong aspect of the entire lesson.”