Conifer High School surprises student with first-ever braille yearbook

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By Deborah Swearingen

RJ Sampson never forgot his conversation with Conifer High School yearbook teacher Leslie Thompson, the one where he requested a yearbook in braille.

But he never thought it could actually happen. So you can probably imagine his surprise when he was given exactly what he asked for years ago at a schoolwide assembly last Friday. As Thompson and yearbook editor Laurel Ainsworth spoke about the special project in front of the school, a knowing smile crept onto Sampson’s face. Minutes later, he walked down to pick up his first-ever accessible yearbook to the cheers and applause of the crowd.

“I was really shocked that it was made a possibility and everything. I really do appreciate everyone going out of their way to have made it for me,” he later said, adding that he knew the costs associated with making the project happen. “It means a lot.”

As far as most know, Conifer is the first school in Jeffco to take on such a project. That’s probably because it’s a lot of work, and it can be costly. In addition to adding pages in braille, the yearbook staff recorded audio to accompany the pages, mostly because braille is much larger than printed English. It would take a lot of space and time to write each page in the tactile code.

“Braille is just so much bigger, so we had to make sure that we wrote it where it would fit on one page of the yearbook,” said Rachel Zamora, who helped translate the pages.

“It’s hard because you have to visualize it rather than feel it, so when you’re revising it to make sure everything’s right, it takes so long,” she added.

Ainsworth echoed this sentiment. While she didn’t translate any pages into braille, she spent a lot of time recording audio and video to accompany the pages. The project’s been in the works since April 2018, she said.

“So just to see this finally come out of it and hopefully have the entire student body appreciate it. It’s going to be huge,” she said. “… We know we put a lot of work into it. I don’t know that they know how much work goes into it. And then especially with the braille book and the videos, like that’s just another level of work that we’ve been doing.”

More than anything, though, Ainsworth said she was excited to see Sampson’s reaction.

“I hope he’ll be surprised and that he’ll be … as excited as we are,” she said prior to the event.

Sampson was excited, and a smile stayed on his face for the rest of the afternoon. Thompson noticed it, and it made the months of secrecy and hard work all the more worth it.

“That was the best thing ever to surprise him. That’s all we’ve looked forward to all year. It was can we keep it a secret and can we surprise him?” she said.

“Mic drop,” Thompson added with a smile, signaling a mission accomplished.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.