Blind Student Always Felt Left Out at High School – Until One Look Into His Senior Yearbook Changed Everything
Students put more than 1,500 hours into this special, surprise gift.
High school is one of the most formative experiences of a young person’s life. And sure, at the end of the day, everyone has a different high school experience. But that doesn’t mean some students should have access to specific events and mementos that others don’t.
The students at Conifer High School in Colorado get that, which is why they went out of their way to help one classmate get a senior yearbook he could enjoy.
The Simple Request One Student Made to His Teacher
When visually-impaired student Randy “RJ” Sampson was a freshman at the school, he asked his teacher, yearbook supervisor Leslie Thompson, whether they would ever have a braille yearbook he could also enjoy.
It was the last day of school that year and Thompson didn’t think they had the resources to pull off such a feat. But she never forgot Sampson’s request.
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“Going out the door, he said, ‘When are you going to make me a braille yearbook?'” Thompson recalled the NBC News. “[The] idea has been percolating since then.”
She thought about it so much that by the time the student entered his senior year, she and the rest of the yearbook staff had a plan.
“This was the year — it couldn’t have happened any other year,” Thompson continued. “These are the kids, the leaders; this was the year.”
The Special Project the Yearbook Staff Undertook
Unbeknownst to Sampson, Thompson and his classmates, the yearbook’s editor-in-chief Laurel Ainsworth, got to work. They carefully crafted the yearbook with braille captions and even created an app so that when Sampson put a smartphone over the photos, audio messages would play.
“I just hope we covered everything so that they can look back in 20 years and we did it justice,” Ainsworth explained.
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According to Thompson, the vision team at Jefferson County schools translated the yearbook onto clear tape, which she then ensured went in the right spots in the book. “It was like arts and crafts for the old person — I loved every second of it,” she said.
The special “More Than Meets The Eye” themed yearbook took an extra 1,500 hours to create that year, but it was a true labor of love.
How One Student Reacted to a Special Surprise
At the end of the year, during the senior send-off assembly, the entire school and news crews gathered as Ainsworth and Thompson presented the special yearbook to an awestruck Sampson. It was the first yearbook he ever bothered collecting since the others were impossible for him to read.
“I really appreciate it — there’s no words that I can use to describe how thankful I am. I’m shocked that Mrs. Thompson and the yearbook staff made it a possibility,” he told the NBC News outlet. “It’s absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to actually read it.”
“It really means a lot to me,” he added to a CBS News outlet. “The community here is so loving.”
How One School Proved the Importance of Creating Inclusivity
For years Sampson felt left out of a collective high school experience that should have been accessible to him, but because of past precedence and a lack of resources, it wasn’t.
The fact that a whole high school community came together to change that is inspiring because it shows that with some thought, planning, and determination, a more inclusive environment is possible.
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It also motivates us to try and be more inclusive in our daily lives. That could mean challenging our privileges and avoiding assumptions, practicing more active listening and mindful communication while thinking about ways to help or change, or even spending more time educating ourselves before acting.
Above all, this story is a great reminder to make people feel welcome in our environment through the things we say and how we act, and remember that just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean we don’t have the capacity for change.
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