Karen Leggio uses a braille typewriter to translate a lesson for a student.

The Peekskill City School District is introducing “People of PCSD”—a new profile series celebrating those that make Peekskill’s schools stand out. In this series, PCSD will highlight the unsung heroes that operate behind the scenes, put in the extra effort and give their all in order to ensure that their students have the best possible educational experience.

The district is excited to feature Hillcrest’s Karen Leggio, in her own words:

I was hired four years ago as a one-on-one teacher’s aide, but that title was eventually modified to reflect my specific role, so now, officially, I’m considered a teaching assistant for the visually impaired.

I remember when I first started at Peekskill and realized that my student was having trouble communicating with the teacher because nothing was translated to Braille. The teacher would read a worksheet out loud, and we’d get a verbal answer, which worked fine for a majority of the class work, but not, for example, when you’re giving the class a spelling test. And the problem wasn’t that my student couldn’t write in Braille—they could! The issue was that no one could read what they wrote.

So, I started finding cheat sheets of the ABCs in Braille so that I could at least decode what was being written. I just kept teaching myself and memorizing until I could read Braille. After that, I’d transcribe lessons and completed assignments. When translating the student’s work, I’d write it exactly as it was done so it was reflective of their writing, and so the teacher would know what the child was getting right and what they were getting wrong. This gave the teacher a true reflection of this student’s abilities. Now, we even have software where I can take a picture of the text and it will transcribe the text directly to our Braille printer—the technology is pretty amazing!

In conjunction with the new technology we’ve got in the classroom, we recently found a Braille library in Albany through the Library of Congress, so I can look online and I can request the books we’re using in the class and they’ll send them to the school for free. Then, when we’re done, we just send them back. It’s a really nice resource to have access to. We just got, ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ so now there’s the ability for my student to independently read along with the class.

I’m always trying to learn more and figure out ways to help my student do the same. During a recent professional development day, I went to visit the New York Institute for the Blind in the Bronx. I wanted to go there and make sure I was doing right by this child. I expected to walk out of the institute thinking there were all of these things that I could have been doing better, but when I got there and looked around, everything on the shelves, we have here at Hillcrest! I walked out of there feeling like I was doing something right, like my student was exactly where they were supposed to be. I’m going back down there in November to learn more about using an abacus. I already know how to use one, but math is very visual, so it gets tricky when you get into multiplying numbers, so I want to see if they have any tips that will enable me to stay a step or two ahead of the class work we’re doing. The last thing I want is to one day not be ready for what is being taught.

Above all else, I want my student to be successful. To make that happen, it is imperative that I have all of the tools at my disposal, and I do!