Blind tutor teaches kids to read at Earle Brown Elementary

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 10, 2014 - 11:49 PM

After spending a year at Earle Brown Elementary teaching pre-K students to read, he’s looking forward to law school this fall.

hide

He’s just a big kid: Jordan Richardson talks to Earle Brown Elementary pre-Kindergarten student Bella Valencia on the playground. To Bella and her classmates, Richardson was just a big kid who sat with them in miniature chairs, read to and played games with them. Above, Richardson watches as children walk to their family members following pre-K graduation on Monday.

Photo: DAVIDJOLES • djoles@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

At the start of the school year, Jordan Richardson stored his white cane and Braille laptop and told the preschoolers whom he would teach to read that he is blind.

The kids didn’t care.

Richardson, 23, rejected as a tutor by one local elementary school last summer because of his blindness, on Tuesday completed the year as a Minnesota Reading Corps tutor at the Earle Brown Elementary School in Brooklyn Center.

The 4- and 5-year-olds at Earle Brown apparently saw something that administrators at the other school overlooked.

“Does being blind really have anything to do with reading?” asked Richardson, who grew up in Blaine, graduated from the University of Minnesota a year ago and plans to attend Chicago-Kent College of Law this fall.

“The children and I have talked about it,” he said of his disability. “To them, it wasn’t a big issue. Being blind has no relevance to reading.”

Richardson was told that he had less than 5 percent vision — making him legally blind — when he was a preschooler. He was diagnosed with an eye-movement disorder called nystagmus and learned that he has cone-rod dystrophy, a degeneration of nerve cells within the retina. Both eyes have continued to deteriorate. Richardson says he has 20/400 vision now, but there’s no guarantee he’ll have sight by the time he completes law school.

“It’s impossible for me to describe what I can and can’t see because I can’t compare my vision to anyone else’s,” he said. “I can read some print, but prefer Braille. I can see people. I just can’t see them well enough to recognize them.”

Richardson says he can make out words if they’re right in front of him. He can write.

When teaching children to read, he relies on a packet of handmade cards marked both visually and in Braille. He will place the card by his nose, so he can see its image, before showing the children. Each card carries a picture and description — a pig, for instance. He also relies on sounds, using rhymes and alliteration.

In some situations, he pulls children aside individually, showing them a picture and a word, defining the word verbally and then asking the child to repeat that definition.

“It would be no different than if I was doing this in Braille,” he said.

Other experiences

Richardson is a gifted communicator. His mother said he worked two summers for Gov. Mark Dayton’s campaign staff and, later, citizen-outreach staff. He spent last summer in Baltimore as an intern for the National Federation of the Blind. Back in 2008 and 2009, he worked two-week programs in Philadelphia, where he taught blind kids how to use a cane and read Braille on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind in Pennsylvania. And in 2010, he taught high school students to read Braille in Towson, Md., through Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.

Teaching children who can see to read presented a different challenge — one that a Minneapolis elementary school was reluctant to embrace, said Richardson’s mother, Carrie Gilmer. She said that Richardson, a member of the National Honor Society at Blaine High School, had “super” interviews with Minnesota Reading Corps, a division of AmeriCorps that provides literacy tutors for kids from age 3 to the third grade. Gilmer said her son’s meeting with the school’s program director seemed to go equally well.

Then the school, which both Richardson and his mother declined to name, became concerned that he might injure himself, tripping over a toy, Gilmer said. The school asked how Richardson would be able to check kids’ handwriting, or teach children to read vocabulary words that he couldn’t see.

Just a big kid

But to the preschoolers at Earle Brown, Richardson was just a big kid who sat with them in miniature chairs, talked enthusiastically about “The Ugly Duckling” and adhered to fashion on pajama day. When kids sat in a circle with their legs crossed, Richardson did so, too. He only drew the line when one of the girls in the class offered her hula hoop.

  • related content

  • Jordan Richardson watches as children walk to their family members after the conclusion of a pre-K graduation ceremony Monday, June 9, 2014, at Earle Brown Elementary School in Brooklyn Center, MN. Richardson is a teaching aide at the school and is blind and has told the students but isn’t sure they comprehend or care. “Does it matter?” he asks. “Does Being blind really have anything?”] (DAVIDJOLES/STARTRIBUNE) djoles@startribune.com Jordan Richardson, legally blind since birth, will complete the school year Monday as a Reading Corps aide for prekindergarten students at Earle Brown Elementary School in Brooklyn Center. That’s right, this 23-year-old law...

  • During a circle numbers game Daiyah Klatt, standing, correctly answers the question as Jordan Richardson, center, and teacher Ashley Peters, right, look on Thursday, June 4, 2014, at Earle Brown Elementary School in Brooklyn Center, MN. Richardson is a teaching aide at the school and is blind and has told the students but isn't sure they comprehend or care. "Does it matter?" he asks. "Does Being blind really have anything?"] (DAVIDJOLES/STARTRIBUNE) djoles@startribune.com Jordan Richardson, legally blind since birth, will complete the school year Monday as a Reading Corps aide for prekindergarten students at Earle Brown Elementary School in Brooklyn...

  • LEADING THE WAY: Above, reading tutor Jordan Richardson used body language to show Abraham Barbosa, left, Daiyah Klatt, Kennedy Perkins and Aaron Nundahl how to keep their hula hoops in the air. Below left: Flanked by Royce Angeles, left, and Kennedy Perkins, Richardson tended to paperwork. Below: Richardson escorted pre-k student Bella Valencia from the playground to the school.

  • Jordan Richardson attends to paperwork related to verbal exercises with pre-kindergarten students Royce Angeles, left, and Kennedy Perkins. The students are aware of their aide’s visual impairment, but Richardson said he isn’t sure if they comprehend or care.

  • Jordan Richardson escorts pre-k student Bella Valencia inside to the school from the playground Thursday, May 29, 2014, at Earle Brown Elementary School in Brooklyn Center, MN. Richardson is a teaching aide at the school and is blind and has told the students but isn't sure they comprehend or care. "Does it matter?" he asks. "Does Being blind really have anything?"] (DAVIDJOLES/STARTRIBUNE) djoles@startribune.com Jordan Richardson, legally blind since birth, will complete the school year Monday as a Reading Corps aide for prekindergarten students at Earle Brown Elementary School in Brooklyn Center. That's right, this 23-year-old law student who reads...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Advertisement
Golden Gavel by Star Tribune

Countdown to great deals

Bid Sept. 21-29

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Do you support Wednesday's decision to sideline Adrian Peterson again?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close