Mason McLaughlin, 10, plays with Bilko, the guide dog belonging to his student teacher, Jenna Karg. Not surprisingly, Bilko was a big hit with the Frank Elementary School students. But so was Ms. Karg.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY
Jenna Karg’s childhood was filled with basketball games, high school musicals, and horseback riding.
But the way she did those activities was sometimes unorthodox.
Such as when Ms. Karg — who has been blind since an infant — played snare drum in her middle school marching band. She was tied with a bungee cord to another drummer so she wouldn’t go the wrong way.
“Jenna always wanted to do things, and we said, ‘OK. Go find a way to do it,’” said her mother, Pam Karg, an elementary school physical education teacher from Upper Sandusky, Ohio.
“She’s not afraid to try anything. That’s what I admire about her.”
Now in college, Ms. Karg, 20, faced new challenges as she learned how to teach and spent nearly three months volunteering in a special-education classroom.
And, as always, she did things a bit differently to overcome obstacles.
“Most people think, ‘How are you going to teach when you can’t see? How are you going to control your classroom? How are you going to grade papers?’ “ said Ms. Karg, a junior at Bowling Green State University. “That’s something I’m going to overcome. I have to prove to them I can do it.”
The gift helped soothe a 10-year-old special-needs boy who had gotten agitated by a two-hour delay that disrupted his normal routine. The fourth grader became more relaxed and snuck peeks at Bilko, Ms. Karg’s guide dog, lying nearby on a blue blanket as the teacher and the boy practiced reading.
The black Labrador retriever seemed immune to the wiggling elementary students.
Here in Doug Pevoar’s classroom, Ms. Karg, who is studying special education, spent every Wednesday since September, working with elementary students who struggle with reading, are autistic, or have other special needs.
Mr. Pevoar said Ms. Karg and his students shared a special connection.
They were aware of her challenges, how she relied on Bilko to get around, and how she used a special computer that talked back to her because she couldn’t see.
Yet it didn’t stop her from living her life, from going to college to become a teacher, and staying in an apartment with her friends in Bowling Green.
They saw her as a role model.
“There’s something about Jenna,” said Mr. Pevoar, an intervention specialist who has been employed at Frank Elementary for eight years. “The kids are just drawn to her.”
And in turn, Ms. Karg had a unique connection to her students.
“She just kind of gets why they are special,” Mr. Pevoar said. “She has lived it.”
Ms. Karg can only see shadows and lights.
She was born four months premature, small enough to fit into her father’s open hand at 1 pound, 4 ounces.
Her parents were just thankful she was alive after their infant daughter dealt with a slew of health issues, including a collapsed lung and poor circulation.
Ms. Karg’s only lingering problem, however, was blindness. Her right retina was completely detached and left retina partially detached.
Mr. Pevoar admitted that, at first, he was unsure about having a blind student teacher. He wondered how much extra work he might have to do for her to keep up.
The computer — which looks like a small piano keyboard — converted the electronic text into Braille so she could read along.
Mr. Pevoar said he changed his mind quickly about his doubts.
He noticed Ms. Karg sensed when his students seemed upset or weren’t paying attention, even though she couldn’t see their faces.
He noticed she had the mind-set of a teacher, becoming ecstatic when her students made small improvements. Those little victories are what excite special-education teachers, he said.
And he noticed the students responding.
“It was just about what she could do for my students,” Mr. Pevoar said.
On her last day, Jacob Everly, 9, brought a Christmas card written in Braille for Ms. Karg.
Jordan Franks, 8, looked longingly at the guide dog.
“I wish I had Bilko,” he said.
Contact Gabrielle Russon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6026.