Jacks Valley students is first blind boy at Space Camp | RecordCourier.com

Jacks Valley students is first blind boy at Space Camp

by Merrie Leininger

A 9-year-old Douglas County boy last week became the first blind student from Nevada to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.

Tom Lake, a 4th grader at Jacks Valley Elementary School, was chosen for his inquisitiveness and his intelligence, according to his instructor, Karen Barbee.

Barbee said the coordinator for the blind camp in Huntsville, Don Oats, contacted Jeff Johnston, a science teacher at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School who attended Space Camp, and asked for a recommendation.

She said the blind Space Camp provides opportunities for students who are visually impaired and miss out on some things other students use to help determine what they want to do as a career.

Barbee works with three totally blind students in the district, one of whom is Tom, and three partially blind students.

Tom’s mother, Francine Hartshorn, said when she first told him about the camp, he was ready to go.

“He’s ready to try anything,” she said.

When he called her from the camp he was excited about everything he’d learned and the people he’d met.

“He was extremely excited. The first thing he said when he got home was, ‘So next year when I go…’ He learned about opportunities he never knew had existed,” Hartshorn said.

n All day and all night. Tom spent the week of Oct. 25 at Space Camp with blind students from all over the United States, Australia, Europe, Israel and many other countries.

His mother said the program was intensive, keeping the students going from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., but Tom said participants would still stay up all night and talk.

Tom flew there by himself, something he is experienced in after attending another blind camp in California since he was 5 years old, he said.

He learned about spacecraft such as Apollo I and the Challenger and “all about space,” he said. “It was a great experience. I want to go back next year.”

He liked everything except the tap water, which he said tasted like salt.

He got to experience many astronaut training simulators such as the multi-axis trainer and the 1/6-gravity simulator.

“I was never really interested in space before, but now I am,” he said. Although he doesn’t want to be an astronaut, but said he might like to work in mission control.

His first career choice, however, would to be the first blind pro-baseball pitcher. He plays baseball in school and enjoys other sports like football and soccer.

“I like all the rough sports,” Tom said. “I might be good at fake pro wrestling.”

His mother, a 2nd grade teacher at Zephyr Cove Elementary school, said the school district is always supportive of anything he is interested in doing.

n Pro wrestler? He enjoys watching pro wrestling on television, he said, but the rest of his family refuses to watch it with him.

His family includes parents Francine and Dennis Hartshorn, sisters Kathie and Amanda and brother Travis.

Tom has also been taking piano lessons for about a year, and Barbee said his instructor, who has never taught a blind student, said he has great potential.

Barbee said Tom is an incredible student who is in the gifted and talented program.

He is never pulled out of a regular 4th grade class, but she sometimes goes into class with him. All his books and his homework are in Braille, and Barbee translates it into printed writing for his teachers, who grades it with the rest of the class.

“He is very bright, pretty much a straight-A student,” she said. “He is a pretty extraordinary kid. He has lots of friends and gets around the school on his own. He’s real well-rounded.”

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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