A Shawnee Mission School District teacher’s dedication to her students and innovation in her classroom earned her a ticket to California and a top honor in her field.
Jeri Hile, a teacher for the visually impaired, received the 2018 Teacher of the Year for Excellence in Braille Instruction from the Braille Institute — a non-profit organization that serves students with blindness and vision loss through free programs and classes.
The award recognizes certified teachers for the visually impaired in the United States and Canada for their hard work and innovation in the field.
“Jeri’s impact on her students’ lives is immeasurable, and we feel privileged to be able to honor her this way,” said Braille Institute President Peter Mindnich. “She is an innovative educator who promotes braille literacy through creative lesson plans and technology.”
Hile, who was nominated by a family of one of her students, has been with the district since 2002. Hiles said she was stunned to get the call last month that she had been awarded the honor.
“I just didn’t even know what to say,” she said of the phone call she received with the news. “There’s a lot of people who are nominated.”
The winner, selected by the Braille Challenge National Advisory Committee, receives a cash award as well as a BrailleNote Apex Notetaker — a tablet used to type braille — through the support of HumanWare.
They also receive a trip to Los Angeles to attend the Braille Challenge National Finals, where students compete in five categories: reading comprehension, braille spelling, chart and graph reading, proofreading and braille speed and accuracy.
“It’s really cool because a lot of people don’t know about this job,” Hile said of the award. “It brings braille to the forefront and lets people know we are out here performing an important job. Maybe it will attract some people to the field.”
Hile has a master of science in special education with an emphasis in visual impairments from Missouri State University and a bachelor of science in mathematics from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is also a certified braillist and a certified orientation and mobility instructor.
To prepare students for life after high school, Hile uses a real-world approach that teaches students social and independent living skills — all while making learning fun.
In one of her high school classes, she recently had students plan a birthday party for Yoda using an Excel spreadsheet. Students were required to remain within a certain budget as they planned. She also teaches students practical skills in the kitchen like how to use a knife and an oven.
“So much of what we learn is through observation and imitation,” Hile said. “We have to teach them everything from assisted technology, social skills, independent living skills, in addition to braille,” she said of her students.
National Programs Director Sergio Oliva said the award was created to spread awareness about students with visual impairments and teachers for the visually impaired.
“Teachers for the visually impaired are imperative in the forming and schooling of blind and visually impaired youth across the U.S. and beyond,” Oliva said. “Teachers for the visually impaired serve as the catalyst to truly transform lives and give hope to a population that is oftentimes overlooked.”
Hile said she also would like to see more awareness in the field and hopes the award will draw more attention to the misconceptions people have about her students.
“It’s a part of who they are, but there is so much more to who my students are,” Hile said. "I encourage them to become independent and believe that they can achieve anything as long as they are willing to work hard and learn the necessary skills.”