Gabrielle Lapat

Before we got to the Carroll Center for the Blind, I had no preconceived ideas about blind people at all. It wasn’t that I thought that they weren’t capable of fencing or any other sport—it was more that I never really thought about it. However, from the moment I arrived at Carroll, and the coach asked us to close our eyes, I realized that there was so much for me to learn about this group of people.

I quickly figured out that the way I moved through the world usually wasn’t going to help me at all in this situation. I tried to listen very closely to all of the coach’s instructions and to use my ears instead of my eyes. It was fascinating to me to play a sport without looking at my opponent.

That inspired to me to start thinking about every moment in the day that I depend on my eyes to help me navigate whatever situation is in front of me. When I am eating lunch, for example, I can easily grab a french fry without worrying that I might dip my hand in the ketchup, missing the french fry completely. And that is just at lunch. I can get off the school bus and walk toward the building without worrying about getting hit by a car that I didn’t see. I can’t even imagine how it would feel leaving home and not being able to see a brand new college or town.

However, these are the kinds of problems that the students at Carroll have to solve every day. I was so impressed with all the people we met learning how to live independently in this program. And most of the people we talked to had additional problems that they were working to overcome. Everything about the day left me thinking about how lucky I am. As I walked out the door of the school, I really noticed the green of the grass and the blue of the sky, reminding myself that even the little things I take for granted are a gift.

I have had similar thoughts three times a week when I walk from the subway to the Margaret Fuller House in Cambridge. Before the pandemic, I had volunteered in soup kitchens and with special needs skaters. I had never previously spent this much time with a group of kindergartners from a world so different from my own. In my classroom, there are kids who probably need academic help, and others who clearly need other kinds of one-on-one attention. But there are eight kids, so I do my best to help all the kids with what they need, keeping a smile on my face the whole time. These kids have helped me become more patient, more creative, and much more appreciative of all my own teachers.

When I think back on this summer, in addition to independence and a great understanding of Boston transportation, I have really learned to appreciate how lucky I am—not only for my vision and the rest of my health—but also for the great public schools that have educated me. One of the students at Carroll said something that has stuck in my mind. It sounds like most of the students we met are the only blind student in their school. Sometimes, in Sudbury, I feel like the only Jewish student. It’s been really nice to spend the summer with a bunch of other Jewish teens, learning about our religion, and talking about our values. I guess I have one more thing to be thankful for about Teen JUST-US.

Gabrielle Lapat
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