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Schools get casual to help blind students

POSTED: February 9, 2009 11:59 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Gainesville High School physical science teacher Pamela Quigley-Jones makes copies inside the school's front office Monday. Quigley-Jones is wearing jeans as part of "Georgia Casual Week," which asks its participants to make a donation in order to dress down at work. The money that is collected will be donated to The Georgia Academy of the Blind in Macon.

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An Alpharetta mom initiated a statewide fundraiser for the Georgia Academy for the Blind that has Gainesville school employees sporting jeans to work this week.

The Gainesville school system is one of six school systems in Georgia participating in Gov. Sonny Perdue’s "Georgia Casual Week," which invites school systems and companies to allow individual employees to make a $5 or more donation to the Macon school for the blind to dress down this week.

Merrianne Dyer, superintendent of Gainesville schools, said the system has two high school students who trek to Macon each week. She said the school system is responsible for footing the $8,000 transportation bill annually for each visually impaired student, and system employees aim to raise about $8,000 this week to donate to the school’s student fund.

Dyer said the Georgia Academy for the Blind operates on state funds and private donations, both of which are dwindling, and does not receive local tax resources to support the visually impaired education of about 120 students ages 3 to 21.

"It’s paid for by state funding," Dyer said of the academy. "But like other state funding, it isn’t nearly enough and that’s why they’re having trouble."

Donations from Georgia Casual Week benefit the Georgia Academy for the Blind student fund. The student fund traditionally operates on private donations and foundations. The fund supports on-campus activities, field trips, the school’s motivational wage program, and student clothing and sports uniforms for needy students.

Each Monday morning, Donna Boylan of Alpharetta sends her daughter, Courtney, 16, on a bus to Macon for the week. On Mondays through Fridays, Courtney takes academic classes, learns how to read Braille and practices travelling with a cane at the academy. While she’s in Macon, she sleeps in one of several cottages with other residential students from across the state before taking the bus back home to Alpharetta on Friday.

Boylan said in the two years her daughter has attended the school, she said it’s been apparent it suffers from a lack of funds.

"The facilities are really old and need a lot of improvement," she said. "And my daughter would tell me things like they couldn’t go on a field trip because they couldn’t afford it."

The activist mom said Courtney has blossomed in her two years at the academy, and supports the education she has received there.

"They learn so much more in this type of environment," Boylan said. "As they get older, it’s really important socially for them. She’s so happy to have friends and go to the prom."

Boylan said with state education budget cuts, establishing a statewide fundraiser for the school has been "something that’s been weighing on me for a while."

Boylan contacted the governor’s office and pitched the casual week fundraiser to the governor. Boylan said the idea stemmed from the casual weeks held four times a year that her employer, Premier Golf, holds to benefit local charities.

Dyer said the quality services the academy provides for its blind students could not be duplicated throughout the state, and she feels it’s important communities come together to support the state school this week.

"It’s very unusual that something like this is organized by the governor on the state level," Dyer said. "We were really surprised."



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