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Spring/ Summer 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By William “Bill” Daugherty, Superintendent, TSBVI

Abstract: Bill Daugherty, Superintendent of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, describes students’ viewpoints expressed at typical meals in the TSBVI cafeteria.

Key Words: News & Views, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, TSBVI, Superintendent Bill Daugherty, blindness, visual impairment, cafeteria

I was asked to write about my observations and conversations that occur when I eat with the students in the TSBVI cafeteria. School cafeterias have always been major icons of the school experience, lived and then relived time and time again with tales of mystery meats, broccoli and the many characters who seem to be their most interesting selves during those 30 minutes of relatively unstructured time. But having recently gotten off the plane from Nigeria where I visited a school for the blind and saw kids walking a dusty, rutty and caneless half mile three times a day for a small bowl of grain and tuber based mush, I’m about ready to start force feeding the broccoli back here at home. I kid, but just a little.

Enough about the adjustments I have to make now that I’m back on Texas soil in the Land of Plenty. The table I sit at when I’m able to make it to the cafeteria is usually populated by the same two or three teens, with another two or three who come and go as the mood strikes. When I’m there I’m mostly a listener who asks a few opened ended questions from time to time about food, music, the bus rides home, favorite teachers/subjects and the like. I also spend a lot of time just looking around the cafeteria at how kids and kids and kids and staff interact. The TSBVI cafeteria is actually a very pleasant place operated by a friendly staff serving up food on par with any of the many school lunches I have eaten over the years. The instructional staff sits among the students giving assistance as needed and otherwise just having a low-key presence that gives the overall feel of a big family dinner.

What I have picked up from talking with students is that they all have a very personal set of needs and interests that reflects their family life and upbringing as well as their individual awareness of being a person with a disability. Some seem to view themselves significantly through the lens of their handicapping conditions—others seem to care less about how they are labeled or which body parts work well and which don’t. All really do seem to care a great deal about how they are thought of by the adults around them. Says one girl: “I can’t wait to tell Mr. So-And-So about the grade I made in math!” Says one boy: “Wait until you see me in my suit tomorrow--you won’t even believe how good I’m going to look!” A few kids in the cafeteria might be a little more surly and disaffected in their manner, but I suspect they are all desperately looking for validation from the adults around them.

These kids are also funny as all get out, and every chance to eat with them is going to bring some laughs. Today a boy with no vision did a spot-on physical impersonation of a popular social studies teacher, and acted truly surprised when I asked him how in the world he knew about the mannerism. Says one boy: “Mr. Daugherty, I don’t have a pen—can I borrow yours for the afternoon?” Says I: “This is a superintendent’s pen with very special powers. If you had it you might sign something that lets school out early”. Says the boy very seriously and somewhat offended: “Well, I have a pen at home that is so powerful it’s used by the military, and it could kick your pen’s tail.” So, I held on to my pen, but it now it sits nervously in my pocket. The barbecue on a bun and mac-n-cheese seemed to hit the spot for everyone and folks were generally in good spirits with a couple of hours left before a long weekend.