Lesson in life without sight

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Brent Roberts, 10, makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a blindfold at Fremont Elementary School on Wednesday. Gifted and talented students were learning what it is like without sight.

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Brent Roberts, 10, makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a blindfold at Fremont Elementary School on Wednesday. Gifted and talented students were learning what it is like without sight.

Fremont Elementary School fifth-grader Dominick Harris, 10, stuck a plastic knife into a peanut butter jar, barely snagging enough to cover a small slice of white bread which began to tear under the knife's pressure.

He smeared the spread liberally and fumbled around to find the jar for a second helping.

"Is this good?" he asked to nobody in particular.

He set down the knife for a moment and felt around the table in front of him.

"I'm looking for the jelly," he said. "Well, not really 'looking' I guess."

Harris was blindfolded.

Upon finding the jelly and smearing two globs atop his 2 p.m. snack, Dominick ripped off his blindfold, smiled - picked up the sandwich and folded it in half.

With a mouthful of peanut butter and bread, he smiled.

"Not bad - but I wouldn't want to have to do that again," he said.

Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 gifted and talented students at Fremont spent the post-school session learning what it's like to be blind.

From a presentation from blind speakers to workshops (dressing yourself blindfolded, learning how to read Braille) to a guest appearance from the Carson City Guidedog Club, the students - at the very least - garnered empathy for those who do not have the gift of sight.

"I think about what it would be like sometimes," Dominick said. "I tried to think about it while I was managing to scoop out peanut butter and just making a simple sandwich.

"When you see blind people, you think about it. Then you forget - I don't think I'll forget this anytime soon."

Sisters Emily, 9, and Sadie, 10, Janssens helped one another "dress" while blindfolded. The pair put socks, shoes and sweats over their school clothes - a process that Sadie said "took at least twice as long - with help" than getting ready in the morning.

"I didn't know where things were," she continued. "I had to feel in the shirt for the tag so I didn't put it on backwards. When you put the (blindfold) on, you realize simple things like getting dressed - are difficult."

Elizabeth Bracamontes, 11, a fifth-grader, marveled at a Braille-reading workshop, especially at how small the Braille characters are. She said she's familiar with Braille from doing everyday things, like going to an ATM machine with one of her parents.

Actually reading Braille, however, is a different story, she said.

"It would take a long, long time to learn," she said.

But the highlight of the day for many was Spike, Suede and DeSoto - three Labrador puppies, all fewer than 6 months old, who are being trained through the guide-dog club to eventually be seeing-eye dogs.

"Can you believe that someday, these dogs are going to turn out to be the eyes for someone who cannot see?" said Warren Wish, a counselor at Eagle Valley Middle School and head of the guide-dog club.

Wish, who said the dogs, who with their trainers endure a year and a half of rigorous preparation for their job, have one of the highest success rates of becoming a "working dog" in the region.

"Only about half become guide dogs," he said. "But that's a pretty good number."

Emily Belt, 14, a freshmen at Carson High, is Suede's trainer.

Suede, her second seeing-eye dog, goes with her everywhere - to school, practice, on vacation - he's "with (me) 24-7," she said.

"There's no such thing as a quick trip out," said Kelsey Mammen, 15, a Carson High sophomore, whose yellow Lab Spike is Suede's brother. "You get used to it though and it's worth it."

Katlynn Shepard, 12, an Eagle Valley eighth-grader and trainer of DeSoto, a 4-month-old black Lab, is getting her first taste of training a guide dog. While she said she's not looking forward to giving up her constant companion, she said she knows it's for a good cause.

"That's what matters," she said.

As the elementary school students took turns guiding dogs, making sandwiches and even using a talking clock radio - it was Dominick, purveyor of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that continued to be circumspect.

"You know, I'm learning a lot today," he said. "And I think I'll look at things differently."

• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at apridgen@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.


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