Colorblind since birth, a beloved teacher gets a gift from his students. Now ‘everything pops.’

Osceola Fundamental High School history teacher Brian Yarbrough has been colorblind his whole life. Now, thanks to his students, he's seeing colors for the first time.
Published December 24 2018

SEMINOLE — Brian Yarbrough learned he was colorblind in kindergarten, after his teacher noticed he was having trouble identifying colors and phoned his mother.

Fast-forward to now. He’s 38 and a teacher himself at Osceola Fundamental High School. And again, someone in his classroom picked up on the inherited vision problem.

Earlier this month, 15 students arrived at the door of his portable classroom bearing a Christmas gift: glasses from EnChroma, a brand that on its website promises to “unlock a new world of color for people with colorblindness.”

And that it has, Yarbrough said. His son’s bright blue eyes, an American flag hanging on his classroom wall, the bright red house next to his — he can see them all better now.

“Everything pops,” the teacher said. “It’s been wonderful.”

Krista Marrocco, 18, organized the group of involved students, all seniors who took Yarbrough’s Advanced Placement U.S. History course last year. She has wanted to get him the glasses since then, after finding out why all the markers beneath the teacher’s dry erase board are labeled by color.

“It was no question,” 17-year-old Johnette Williams said of pitching in. “He’s the kind of teacher you always wish you’ll have. He’s so giving and caring, and he deserves to be given a lot back."

Yarbrough and his wife had looked into purchasing the exact same glasses many times before, he said, but decided to hold off because of the price. With two young kids, including a 4-year-old in day care, he couldn’t justify the $350.

To the students, though, splitting the cost seemed feasible, and a small price to pay for a teacher like Yarbrough.

Some of his memorable gestures have been simple, like when he stayed after school for more than an hour to walk Ella Slaughter, 17, through the questions she got wrong on a test. Once, he wore a T-shirt given to him by 17-year-old Paige Tepper, who was participating in an event to raise awareness for Type 1 diabetes, which she has.

For Ryan Addy, 18, Yarbrough's character came through strongest on Feb. 15, the day after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County that shook students and communities around the state.

Usually, the teacher came into class with a plan, ready to get to work. But not that day.

"'We need to sit and talk and comfort each other in this time of hurt,'" Addy remembers Yarbrough saying. "AP classes are always rushed, but he took the time to think and feel with us."

Before last year, Jeremy Taylor was never the type to raise his hand in class, even though he often knew the answer to teachers' questions. Then Yarbrough called on him anyway.

"When he said I got it right, something rushed through me and I realized I am actually good at this," said Taylor, 18. "He helped me come out of my shell."

Yarbrough hasn't been an educator long, having left a job in finance only six years ago. But stories from his students suggest he does more than teach curriculum.

His room is a gathering place at lunchtime. Students have his cellphone number in case of an emergency outside of school. He met them for an early morning breakfast and pep talk before the AP exam last year, then again afterward for a celebratory laser tag game.

"His door is just always open for kids that need it," Marrocco said. "I know I can always walk right into his room."

Yarbrough says he's just doing his job. Having the chance to make a positive impact for students is the best part, and he would have never expected such a thoughtful, extravagant gift.

He plans to wear the glasses to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, and to watch the sunset with his wife at Sand Key Park. But even the mundane parts of every day life will be interesting now, too, he said, because he is seeing color for the first time.

"The most amazing part about all of this is the students," Yarbrough said. "I feel very grateful."

Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] or . Follow @mareevs.

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