Monday, February 19, 2018
Education

State association for the blind honors local student and teacher

When Genesis Morales-Agosto won the Most Promising Visually Impaired High School Senior Award on Sept. 19, she didn't accept it in person.

The honors were given on a school day, and Morales-Agosto didn't want to miss class to attend the award ceremony, held at the Florida Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired annual conference in Tallahassee.

"I want to learn all the information the teacher has to give that day," said Morales-Agosto, an 18-year-old senior at River Ridge High School.

To Andrea Schleicher, a teacher of visually impaired students in Pasco County who has worked with Morales-Agosto since age 5, her attitude comes as no surprise.

"This is an incredible, one-of-a-kind young lady," said Schleicher, a district employee based at Seven Springs Middle School who serves 15 students at 20 Pasco schools. "She learns all the skills she needs to be successful. … She has to get good grades, and whatever she sets out to accomplish, she does."

Schleicher nominated Morales-Agosto for the award and agreed to pick it up for her at the conference.

At the same time, she got one herself.

Schleicher received the Florida 2013-2014 Outstanding Educator of the Blind at this year's FAER conference. Both she and Morales-Agosto were nominated for the honors by Sylvia Perez, executive director of the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind in Pasco.

Perez worked with both last summer as part of a Lighthouse transitional school-to-work program. Schleicher was a teacher; Morales-Agosto, who has 20/70 vision that limits her ability to see at a distance, was a student.

"Andrea's warmth and dedication as a teacher is incredible," said Perez. "And Genesis is an outstanding student that works really hard. She's very determined and nothing can stop her."

The dual award marks the latest milestone in the partnership between Schleicher and Morales-Agosto.

"From the beginning she was the student that teachers in my profession pray for," said Schleicher, who has served visually impaired students in the Pasco and Pinellas school systems for 31 years.

Schleicher taught a young Morales-Agosto how to use a magnifier and other equipment that would improve her vision. She taught her life skills from cooking to job seeking, and tutored her in how to explain her challenge to teachers and others.

"I can't tell you what Ms. Schleicher has brought to my life," said Morales-Agosto. "I just can't put it into words."

Morales-Agosto no longer has need for the special equipment that aided her as a child. She is now a professional artist and has done graphic design work for Lighthouse and United Way of Pasco. She is also a member of the National Society of High School Scholars, a percussionist in the River Ridge High marching band and member of the Tri-M music honor society, holds a black belt in karate and loves to dance at Arthur Murray Studios.

She hopes to be a professional artist.

Schleicher takes pride in the part she played in her student's success.

"This is why I do my job," she said.

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