Life Update

Pictured: (l-r) Taylor Cox, Katelyn Divis holding flowers after their piano recital -- Photo courtesy of Taylor Cox

Pictured: (l-r) Taylor Cox, Katelyn Divis holding flowers after their piano recital — Photo courtesy of Taylor Cox

Hi! It’s good to be writing again! So, this blog is called Life Update, so that’s what I’m planning on doing. On Sunday November 13, I had a World Championship jiu-jitsu tournament. I fought girls who weigh, like, twenty pounds heavier than me, but I’m used to it. Even so, I didn’t place and I was really disappointed. I know I surprised the girls I was fighting, but that wasn’t enough for me. 

With my music life, I have a lot going on. I’m going to try out for my future high school music program, APA (Academy of Performing Arts), in a few months. I am going to sing and play piano to “All I Ask” by Adele. I am super pumped about that, and I know I’m going to make it, I hope. I’ve also joined the worship team at church. That, too, is very exciting. I even learned a song the day before and it was pretty awesome. On top of that, I’m writing more music, but I’m kind of putting that on the backburner for now because I’m so focused on my tryouts. I did, however, write a song about leaving your legacy behind and it was a hit at my recital in June that I had. It’s called Legacy and is a good piece of me that I put onto paper, or, in my case, a file in an SD card.

Speaking of technology, I am learning google  drive right now. I’m so excited about that. I’m actually going to try to submit a proposal to speak in San Francisco at the CTEBVI conference again. I would love to talk to the Northern California crowd this year about the technology I use throughout my school day, including Google Drive.

I’ll keep writing sometime soon.  Signing off,


An Update from Heaven

Pictured: Heaven Vallejos at the Monster Mash Dash Run dressed as Wonder Woman -- Photo courtesy of Heaven Vallejos

Pictured: Heaven Vallejos at the Monster Mash Dash Run dressed as Wonder Woman — Photo courtesy of Heaven Vallejos


It’s Heaven. So, it’s been awhile since I updated you. I’m now in 7th grade. Middle school is crazy! Extremely crazy! I now have to go up and down stairs several times a day because this school has two stories. I’m shocked that math is pretty easy – I think the teacher makes it easy. My favorite class is drama. Of course! In drama I can be as crazy as I want to. We role play, make up characters and do voices. My favorite character I’ve done so far has been Fresh Disco.
I’m still running. I joined a running club and we run every Tuesday and Thursday after school. I ran a Halloween run called the Monster Mash. I dressed as Wonder Woman and my running partner dresses as Superman. Next month I will run the Jingle Bell run which raises money Toys for Tots.
Last summer I went to Enchanted Hills Summer Camp and Camp Bloomfield’s para-Olympic camp. At the para-Olympic camp there was a dance I went to that I liked. It was my first dance. And, speaking of dances, I learned the Hustle – my mom taught me. It’s pretty fun!

Until Next Time,

Unexpected Trip

Pictured: Mario Chitwood and a Braille/large print menu from Denny's -- Photo courtesy of Mario Chitwood

Pictured: Mario Chitwood and a Braille/large print menu from Denny’s — Photo courtesy of Mario Chitwood

Hello readers,

I am writing this blog from outside the country. I am in Mexico! It is my first time traveling out of the country and it has been a great experience so far.

Side note, the hotel we are staying at has an amazing chocolate cake.
As you may know from my last blog the original plan was for me to stay behind while my mom traveled but at the last minute she decided that I could go too. So we expedited a passport, set up independent study and here I am.

We took two airplanes. The last time I was on an airplane was six years ago so it was awesome to be on an airplane again. I love the feeling of when the plane takes off. Landing is fun too though.

On day two of our trip, we entered a local Denny’s restaurant and for the first time ever, I was offered a menu in Braille! We could not believe it. It was a very cool experience and it’s something I will never forget. It was nice not depending on someone to read the menu to me & having the opportunity to read the menu myself. It made dining out a much better experience. It would be nice if all or at least most restaurants in the U.S provided Braille menus.

My mom and dad are not fans of being on airplanes so my mom hopes to book a nonstop flight back home. But I’m hoping she won’t find one so that we can go on multiple airplanes. My mom has been on an airplane before but this was my dad’s first time and I don’t think he liked it very much. He is not looking forward to our return flights.

The only downside to this trip has been that we did our traveling to Mexico Halloween day. That meant that unfortunately this year I did not get to dress up or even go trick or treating. I had planned on dressing up as an FBI agent but my mom didn’t think it was a good idea since we’d be going through airport security. So I guess I’ll have to wait until next year to be an FBI agent.

One thing we are doing is keeping up with the election results. It’s a very different experience watching election results in the U.S vs. watching them when you are out of the country. The media coverage is not as heavy and it’s not really a topic of conversation. I know if we were back home, it would be a completely different vibe. I won’t say who I would vote for if I could but I’m starting to get really into politics and can’t wait until I am old enough to vote.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I am still so honored to be one of the Donna Coffee Youth Scholarship Recipients for 2016!

CTEBVI Conference


Pictured: (l-r) Bob Sweetman, Taylor Cox, Jamie Murdy at 2016 CTEBVI Conference

Pictured: (l-r) Bob Sweetman, Taylor Cox, Jamie Murdy at 2016 CTEBVI Conference


Hi! My CTEBVI presentation went good. Now I’ll explain it in detail, along with the other parts of the conference.


First, I got to L.A. I met with my teacher, Mrs. Jamie. I ate a lot of candy before my presentation because I was really nervous. We had about twenty minutes with the other presenter, Bob Sweetman, and we were ready.

I was so excited. I presented on the technology I use in my schoolday. I talked about the Computer with JAWS, my Open Book software and the Pearl Camera, which is basically an app on my computer and a camera that connects with a USB port and scans a print paper. I also talked about my BrailleNote,my iPad, and my phone. Sometimes my teacher chimed in, but it was mostly me. I was so happy and calm during the presentation and it felt so good doing it. I loved every second of it. At the end of the presentation, I got a lot of “good jobs” and “you did amazing.” I loved every single part of it. My teacher actually counted fifty people in the conference room!

After the hard part was done, I got to relax. I got to go to the guide dog booth and try a Juno lesson. That basically means that a guy was holding the other part of the harness while I held the handle. It was cool because I felt like I could walk without a cane like sighted people do. It made me feel more independent also because of the fact that I walked faster. Finally, it made me want a dog more. I also got to see the new BrailleNote Touch. It is a model of a tablet, but it has a cool keyboard built in to the case. But when you flip up the case,the keyboard is gone. THERE IS JUST A TOUCH SCREEN. I GOT TO TALK TO THE MAN WHO CREATED THE BrailleNote, Greg Stilton. He’s a genius! After that I went to another conference, then my mom and I left the scene of our crime.

This experience was amazing. I think, though, if more kids could present, it would be awesome. It would not only build their confidence, even if it is nervewracking. Just prepare, and you’ll be fine. This was a great experience, again, and more people should do it.

I hope I’ll get the chance to write again. Most likely, you’ll hear from me soon.

Until next time,


Introducing 2016 DCYS Recipients!

Recipients! Yes, you read that correctly – this year we have awarded TWO students the CTEBVI Donna Coffee Youth Scholarship! We’d like to introduce you to Mario Chitwood and Christopher Serrano, this year’s recipients. Please welcome them to our CTEBVI blogosphere! 

Pictured: Mario Chitwood standing in a white shirt and jeans

Pictured: 2016 Donna Coffee Youth Scholarship recipient, Mario J. Chitwood III — Photo: Family of Mario Chitwood

My name is Mario Chitwood I and I am 12 years old. I am currently in 6th grade and will soon be going into middle school. I lost complete sight 5 years ago do to a genetic eye disease, so now I am a Braille user and I travel using a cane. I hope to one day get a guide dog. I have many interests but some of my favorites include learning about Greek mythology, studying outer space, and of course playing Goalball every chance I get. I have a little brother named Max who is almost a year and a half. I enjoy teaching him new things and hope to one day teach him braille.

If I am the recipient of this scholarship, I would really like to use some of the money towards a trip to Los Angeles to Visit the California Science Center. This center has different exhibitions that Are both Fun and educational. Some of the ones that I am most interested in are the Journey to Space exhibition, the Mission 261. The Big Endeavor exhibition, and the ecosystems exhibition. I would like to learn more about space but also about the people who become astronauts because I know I would find those types of stories fascinating.

I mainly chose this activity because when my mom and I researched educational places to visit that are accessible for the blind, the California Science Center fit the criteria. Not only are some of them exhibitions hands on but they provide audio description for ALL the exhibitions! They also provide a visual descripted guided tour for guests with visual impairments. This sounds like a place I can visit and not have to worry about not being able to participate because of accessibility issues.

If I receive this scholarship it will help me towards one of my ultimate goals which is to make it as a contestant on Jeopardy. I love watching this game show with my parents because it’s an educational game show but it’s competitive too. I think a lot of what I will learn at the Science Center could help me towards achieve my goal of being the first kid Jeopardy contestant that just happens to be blind.

I feel that I should be the recipient of the Donna Coffee Youth Scholarship because I want to inspire other people who are blind but especially kids my age to always goals and try your hardest to accomplish them. I also want to be a positive role model to my little brother and show him that an education and hard work leads to great opportunities.



Pictured: Christopher Serrano dressed in a black tuxedo.

Pictured: 2016 Donna Coffee Youth Scholarship recipient, Christohper Serrano — Photo: Christohper Serrano

Student Essay for Christopher Serrano

My name is Chris Serrano, I’m 16 years old and am currently enrolled at Culver City High School. I am also a part of an after school program at the Junior Blind of America which I attend every day when possible. In my free time, I love to play music. I joined my school’s Jazz Ensemble and Guitar Ensemble. On the weekends, I spend my time at the Academy of Music for the Blind (AMB) where I am learning a total of seven different instruments and other skills such as computer programming, sound recording and braille music.

If I am the recipient of this scholarship, it is in my best interest to put the money toward a cause that would ultimately support my passionate desire to further study music. My favorite instrument, of the many I play, is the clarinet. I play the standard B-flat clarinet, but I’ve been wanting a bass clarinet, an instrument with a wider range of notes and more playability. Because the clarinet is my favorite instrument, I will be twice as inspired to learn how to read more braille music. I will have all my parts for band transcribed into Braille so that I may read and memorize the notes much more efficiently before playing them on the instrument.

I’ve also been wanting to download recording software on my computer called Sonar Professional. Next year, I wish to take sound recording classes as an elective in school. Sonar is the most accessible for the visually impaired users and would make the class easier for me to understand.

Receiving the scholarship would help pay for both pieces of equipment. These essential tools would make y educational experience in the field of music a lot more accessible and enjoyable. I’ll be able to do things more independently without having to rely on my sighted peers. One of the requirements for the sound recording class that I am interested in taking is to create your own composition using the available software and studio. If I receive the money and download Sonar, I will be able to meet the monthly requirement on time. Finally, reading Braille music more fluently will help me learn my parts for both Jazz and Guitar Ensemble more efficiently.

If I should receive this scholarship, I believe it would help me succeed in my music career. The money will enable me to purchase the necessary items that will guarantee my success. Many issues, such as learning parts for band by ear, will be resolved when I learn more advanced braille music and am able to play it on the bass clarinet I hope to obtain.

Thanksgiving Recall

Taylor Cox

Hi, everyone! I’m going to tell you about my Thanksgiving break. On that Sunday, I had a jujitsu tournament and I got third place. It was one of the big tournaments. Everybody trained really hard to be the best that they could be. The tournament was called the World Champions. You could tell because the girls who fight are really good, along with the boys, too. In my opinion, the girls are just as good as the boys.

On Thanksgiving I ran in a 5 k that morning. I started the running club in September. I started by barely making it through one mile, and now, here I was, running a 5k on Thanksgiving. I ran it in about 45 minutes. My mom ran with me, along with my teacher, Mrs. Convery, the teacher who started it all. Her husband, Mr. Convery, ran with us. I had my phone with me and I had made a playlist for it. When I finished, I was really proud. Well, proud and tired. I got a metal and a water bottle, and the whole Thanksgiving ahead of me.

After that, we chilled for a little bit, and then we went to my Grandma’s house. My cousins Nina and Mia were there, along with my other cousins Cameron and Kibo. My aunt Sandy and Uncle Duane were also joining us, along with my parents, my grandpa, and my aunt Corinne. Some of us who brought our bathing suits went into the Jacuzzi. Then, we had turkey, ham, rolls, and macaroni. After that, we kids played a game called Pie face. If you haven’t heard of it, it is where you put your chin on a chin rest and there’s a mask around the machine. You spin the spinner and you will land on a number from 2 to 5. Then you have to push a lever type thing, and if you’re lucky, then you don’t get hit in the face with whipped cream. My older sister, Lauren, has a video of me getting pied, and I’ll see if I can get it from her. That game had everybody laughing. It was an awesome Thanksgiving.

On one of the last days, we went to the beach with my cousins Tyler, Charlie, and Caroline. My aunt Jessica and Uncle Luke came with us, along with their relatives Justin and Ashley. Aunt Jessica and Ashley took Caroline, who’s one now, to get tacos for the boys. Meanwhile, we played football and I tried to peg Uncle Luke in the stomach. I think I got him once, but I don’t remember. When the ladies came back, the boys ate and my mom’s cousin, Chrissy, and our aunt Reeny joined us. It was special seeing them because Chrissy goes to college all the way in New York. We played a little hangman. Uncle Luke and I were a team, and Chrissy and Lauren were a team. Lauren and Chrissy had us stumped because they thought to put the name Randa Rowsy as the man. We got them back when my little cousin, Tyler thought of the word Chewbacca. After that, Chrissy took Lauren shopping which was okay, since I hate it. When they came back, we played another game of Pie Face. Chrissy got it almost every time. She has video of it.
On Saturday, I had a piano recital. I did five songs, and they were pretty long. I did a duet with my teacher, and I did another piece called Fantasia. It was cool because my teacher had a keyboard and I had it sound like a harpsichord. After all, that was what it was written for in the first place because it was made before the piano was invented. I came up a second time to play my composition Pegasus, and I played another song called A Whispered Promise. Then, I played the grand finale, Fur Elise. If you looked it up on the Internet, then I have a feeling you would recognize it.

I’ll write again soon, and for Christmas Break, I’ll try not to make it as long as it was. Be expecting another one soon!

How Using Blogs Can Help Our BVI Students

ctebvi logo

ctebvi logo

Dear TVI or O&M Specialists,

We are a busy group; there is so much we need to accomplish and not enough time. You see your students and work with them on academics (ie., math or science) or their IEP goals, and can’t imagine having time to add anything else to the mix. The fact that you’re spending time to read this blog (THANK YOU!) is fantastic and you’re probably multi-tasking as it is right now anyway. If the concept of social media seems daunting, don’t run away when I say that social media is an excellent vehicle for learning and multi-tasking (not just for you, but your students too)! Blogs and social media are a great way to engage with your students on a level that they will appreciate (because it is current and relevant to their lives) and you can kill three birds (or concepts) with one stone in your job by encouraging blogging!

Technology. Braille. Social Interaction.

CTEBVI has set up this Donna Coffee Youth Scholarship blog featuring a new student recipient annually. Every few weeks, our recipient will blog or vlog (video blog) about an academic or social experience. This is a safe, moderated online environment where students can read the blog post and share their thoughts and experiences with others. The blog is accessible via computer, braille note taking device, tablet, smart phone. Use the blog in your technology lesson by navigating to different sections of the blog or writing comments tdo a post.

So your student isn’t quite experienced with technology to access the website? Copy and paste the text into Duxbury or Braille2000, emboss it and use the blog post with your student as part of their braille lesson or as their free reading material. Students can then use their Perkins or braille note taking device to write their own response to a particular blog post while working on spelling, contractions or formatting practice.

Social Interaction
This is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle. Throughout my career, the common phrase I hear from students is that the are “the only kid who is visually impaired” (or at most, one of a few) in their school. Some of these students live in an area where they are the only ones for miles and miles who are blind/visually impaired while others might be fortunate enough to be a part of something like the Braille Institute Youth program and have peers in relatively close proximity. Though the blog doesn’t solve feelings of isolation or lonliness in their school, it will hopefully give them a way to interact with other young people by giving them a safe forum to share thoughts and connect.

We hope that as TVIs and O&Ms, you will read the blog and see the value in it for your students. Access it weekly, monthly or daily…whatever works for you and your students; we would love nothing more than to see a community for our students to share and interact and feel understood and inspired by one another.

What do you think?  Realistically, is this something you have time for? Are you doing something similar?  We want to hear from you!  Comment below or connect with us on social media!