Clovis East students — and brothers — Doua and Cheng Xiong smiled as they listened to their blindfolded classmates tap on the table to pass ceramics tools like rulers and rolling pins to each other.
The ceramics class was asked Thursday to create 3-D fish out of clay without the use of sight.
This was nothing new for the Xiongs, who have been blind since birth, but it proved to be extremely difficult for their sighted peers.
“You can’t see color, you can’t see size, you don’t know where stuff is at. It’s ridiculously hard,” said junior Michael Dowing as he smoothed out the edges of his clay fish. “Where is everything? What am I doing? I’m pretty sure my fish is too small, I’m think I messed up on the lips, the eye, the ground, the tail. I don’t even know. If I tried to locate where the fin would be right now, I’d probably mess up; but I’m going to keep going.”
April Pairs, a teacher for the visually impaired, helped Clovis East ceramics teacher David Guaglianone develop the lesson as a way to teach students not only about art, but what it’s like to have a disability.
October is Disability Awareness Month.
“As we go out into the world when we graduate, there are tons of people in the world who are visually impaired or hearing impaired or who have lots of different types of disabilities,” she said. “It gives them an idea of how to work with them, how to be compassionate and how to be sympathetic while encountering that out in our world.”
Guaglianone said he has had to learn to teach differently this year because Doua and Cheng are in his class.
“I’m very visual in my teaching,” Guaglianone explained. “It’s all of a sudden turning things around to where I have to talk a lot more and explain what I’m doing. That was hard for me.”
He has been quite impressed with the brothers’ skills.
“They amaze me,” he said. “I was surprised by what they’re able to accomplish and I think a lot of the other students were, too.”
Thursday’s lesson was a relief sculpture, which is a flat sculpture with some carving in it and things protruding from it — the fin and eyeball — to make it 3-D.
“It’s a pretty simple activity that I’ve done for 15 years, but never in this way,” Guaglianone said.
Senior Gabriella Mejia said the hardest part of the lesson was communicating with those around her to get the tools she needed.
“It was like I was yelling into a black abyss, like ‘Hello? Are you there?’ ” she said.
Mejia noted she has a cousin with Down syndrome and appreciated this lesson as a way to celebrate Disability Awareness Month.
“I have so much more respect for those two, because it’s a lot harder than you think,” she said of fellow students Doug and Cheng Xiong. “There are more challenges that you face and I felt really vulnerable not knowing what was going on around me.”
Pairs, who works daily with visually impaired students, offered tips to the blindfolded class, such as using the numbers on a clock to describe where something is in relation to them, or by using auditory cues such as tapping on the table where the item was.
The Xiong brothers have one-on-one aides who help them throughout the day as they navigate through their classes.
“They are here to modify any materials to allow the visually impaired students to access the curriculum,” Pairs said, explaining that some instruction is tactile, some materials are created in Braille and others in audio form.
Thursday’s art lesson gave a 30-minute glimpse into what it’s like to be blind; then the students were told to remove their blindfolds.
When Dowing looked at the small clay fish he’d created, he laughed.
“A kindergartener could do better, honestly,” he said.