Latinos In Action members provide aid to classmates with disabilities

Story by EMMA JOHNSON

Jordan High School Latinos in Action (LIA) members are changing the lives of their non-mobile, non-verbal classmates at Jordan Valley School for the disabled. According to the Latinos in Action national webpage, there are groups established in eight states, in over 200 schools, with 8,000-plus student members. LIA members at Jordan High assist their disabled classmates across campus using EagleEyes.

EagleEyes is a mouse replacement system for the computer that tracks eye movement and converts it into mouse movement. The system is primarily used to assist the profoundly disabled. This technology was developed at Boston College and through an exclusive licensing agreement The Opportunity Foundation of America (OFOA) owns the technology and now manufactures, trains and distributes the technology.

Matthew Bell, a foreign language teacher at Jordan High, says in phone and text interviews that the Latinos in Action program was presented to Jordan High 10 years ago by the founder, Jose Enriquez. Bell says through the presentation he immediately saw the program as an opportunity to help Latino heritage students become more involved in the school and in their community. “Another selling point was the strong emphasis the program placed on post-secondary study and achievement,” Bell adds.

There are 24 Jordan High School Latinos in Action volunteers who spend one hour two days a week volunteering at Jordan Valley School. Eighteen of the students facilitate either the EagleEyes or Camera Mouse technologies with nine Jordan Valley School students. LIA members have been volunteering in the classroom for five years.

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Latinos In Action students assisting a Jordan Valley student with EagleEyes. Photo courtesy of Opportunity Foundation of America.

Debbie Inkley, executive director of OFOA, says she has witnessed many student volunteers bring small gifts to their disabled peers. She sees students go above and beyond their responsibilities every day. “Many Jordan High School students will call me if their Jordan Valley School peer is not at school to check and see if their peer is sick,” Inkley says. Both groups of students create bonds with one another. The love and equality between students is evident in their work and is demonstrated in their progression, Inkley explains.

LIA volunteers not only assist their fellow classmates in academic progress but also have given them the gift of friendship. “Jordan Valley School students are elated when they see their Jordan High School Latinos In Action volunteers. They love working with peers and having friendships,” Inkley says.

EagleEyes can be a very intense situation. A lot of patience and care is required of all volunteers assisting the disabled students. Matthew Bells says he has seen students’ experiences with working with EagleEyes benefit them in and outside the classroom. “I think the biggest lesson learned at EagleEyes for my students is that there is a person to be discovered in everyone they meet,” Bell explains.

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EagleEyes volunteers prepare the software for student use. Photo courtesy of Opportunity Foundation of America.

To become eligible for EagleEyes users usually have difficulty communicating or can’t communicate at all. EagleEyes gives them the opportunity to express themselves through words, games, and learning. LIA students are helping their fellow peers communicate in a way they never dreamed of.

LIA members have learned to understand skills bigger than they could have ever expected, Bell says. “Some other little lessons are that they have learned patience, the importance of avoiding multitasking and take a process one step at a time, and perhaps most important they have learned to put all electronics aside and really focus on the person and the task,” Bell says. The growth he has witnessed in LIA volunteers stretch beyond themselves and achieve goals the program was created to help achieve.

The program has helped students reach new perspectives in terms of how they see their parents’ sacrifices, how they see their community and how they see themselves in their future community. Bell says many of his LIA students will be first-generation college students and graduates. “They know very little about how to get there, how to pay for it, or what it takes to be successful in comparison to high school,” Bell says. They are willing to make the sacrifices and being a part of Latinos in Action helps them realize the importance of a successful future.

Camila Gallardo, a senior at Jordan High School, has been a member of LIA for four years. She says in a text interview that LIA has given her another group to call family. She says being a member has helped her to become more confident in herself and made her want to embrace her culture. “I’m so happy Latinos in Action has given me opportunities like volunteering with these kids because it has made me a better person overall and has made me learn so much that you just don’t learn in a classroom setting,” Gallardo says.

“I have had such an amazing time volunteering at Jordan Valley doing EagleEyes,” she says. “It is something that I always look forward to because it’s always just amazing to watch these kids smile when they interact with us.” LIA has created an opportunity for Gallardo to grow beyond herself. Participants of LIA focus on skills that will help them prepare for college and career readiness and leadership development skills. She feels her time spent volunteering with LIA and EagleEyes has not only helped her through high school but also will assist with her professional success.

Latinos In Action school and community involvement has taught students personal skills desired for future success and given Jordan Valley School classmates the opportunity to experience genuine peer support. “The EagleEyes Latinos In Action program changes lives,” OFOA Executive Director Debbie Inkley says. All who are involved with the program say it has been fulfilling and uplifting in every way.