PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. -- This weekend at a gala fundraiser, an extraordinary school in Kansas City, MO that educates blind children marks a major milestone. The Children's Center for the Visually Impaired (CCVI) will celebrate 60 years of doing its important work.
A Prairie Village girl will be in the spotlight at the gala as an outstanding graduate of CCVI. And she is the FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever of the Week.
Every day is exciting and special for learning at CCVI, the Children's Center for the Visually Impaired. And this one is especially exciting. Eight year old Audrey Bethay has come back to school to read to the kids in teacher Sarah Fields' kindergarten class -- kids with very little or no sight, some with multiple disabilities, and a few sighted peers.
Audrey's finger's race across the Braille dots on each page of the book as she reads aloud with confidence and flair. She graduated from CCVI three years ago -- and has soared.
"She is so driven and so interested in everything," says Fields, who taught Audrey at CCVI. "And she just takes off with it. For us, that's why we do it. We want kids to succeed. And that's part of our mission statement, for kids to succeed in a sighted world."
Audrey was born with a hereditary condition that left her with almost no vision and went through CCVI's infant program, pre-school and kindergarten. She got Braille instruction and all kinds of therapy and social skills training that got her more than ready for regular school -- and life.
"She's never taken 'no' for an answer, which I love," says Audrey's mother, Kris Bethay. "And she's also fearless when it comes to the environment. And if she fails then she learns from it and she gets stronger."
Audrey hasn't missed a beat as she's transitioned from CCVI to Briarwood Elementary in Prairie Village. She's in the second grade now, and the Shawnee Mission School District has made sure Audrey's received even more Braille instruction and some of her lessons are Braille-based. But otherwise, nothing special.
"In every way she is a normal kid," says teacher Tish Mocker. "And she just gets in with (the other children in the class) like there's no difference at all."
"I see myself as a daring person because I like to do things that I've never tried," says Audrey. There's been no holding Audrey back as she's tackled every lesson and every challenge. She participates in the Briarwood kids' running club where friends line up to assist her around the track. And when it comes to school work, Audrey wants more, more, more.
"I feel that everything is too easy," says Audrey with a big smile. "I'd like to have harder math and harder reading and harder subjects."
Over the summer, many of Audrey's terrific talents and her confidence and determination came into sharp focus in a big national competition.
"I won second place!" Audrey says excitedly. Second place in her age group in the National Braille Challenge in Los Angeles, in which she was tested in spelling, proofreading and reading comprehension.
"I was really happy!" says Audrey. And as Audrey continues to excel, fearlessly trying all sorts of new things, she thinks about what she'll do as an adult.
"Some of them are author and I want to be an adventurer or maybe an illustrator," says Audrey, ticking off just a few. And people who know her no longer are so surprised that she succeeds at so much -- exactly what her foundation at CCVI was intended to do.
"She came from a place where there was no hope," says her mom, Kris. "We didn't know what to do with her. We didn't know how to function as a family. It just absolutely amazing to see where she has come."
According to CCVI, 92% of CCVI graduates over the past five years have gone on to public school and 8% have entered private or state schools. CCVI is the only school in the Kansas City area which offers specialized instruction for children who are blind or visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities, from birth through school age.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 5 p.m.