S. Idaho educator is Braille Teacher of the Year

GOODING, Idaho (AP) — Decades ago, Jan Zollinger jumped at the opportunity to help a blind classmate at Brigham Young University.

She didn’t know that act of volunteerism would someday lead to a career.

For a semester, she read her sociology classmate class material.

“He said, ‘You should go into teaching the visually impaired,’” Zollinger recalls.

More than three decades later, she has worked with hundreds of children at the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind in Gooding. And that dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed. Zollinger - who has worked at ISDB for 38 years - was recently named Teacher of the Year by the Braille Institute of America. She’s scheduled to be recognized Saturday during the National Braille Challenge in Los Angeles.

Zollinger said she’s humbled by the award. “The kids have taught me more than I’ve taught them, I think,” she said.

Her enthusiasm for teaching and Braille instruction are “unparalleled in the state,” said ISDB administrator Brian Darcy. Zollinger’s teaching method focuses on the arts, such as dancing and singing.

“She is thinking of new and creative ways to teach reading to kids at all age levels,” he said, and is still innovating after decades of teaching.

She said she strives to teach students in ways they learn best and often, that’s through hands-on experiences. For example, as they go over vocabulary words, students get up and act out the words they’re learning.

The Teacher of the Year award recognizes a teacher based on his or her experience, teaching style, advocacy and contributions to the Braille field.

The Braille Institute received 10 nominations this winter from across the United States and Canada. A panel of judges chose a winner in early April.

Zollinger will receive a $3,000 prize, trophy, Braille note-taking equipment and all expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles.

Besides teaching in Gooding, Zollinger is a certified Braille transcriber. She works at ISDB’s Braille transcription center, which reproduces textbooks and materials in Braille or large print for Idaho students. She also organizes the Idaho Regional Braille Challenge, which is held each spring in Gooding.

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Information from: The Times-News, http://www.magicvalley.com

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