Curie High School’s Audio Yearbook

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It’s deadline time for school yearbooks, snapping those last few candid photos and sending them off to the printer. At Curie High School on Chicago’s Southwest side, teachers and students create two yearbooks. And as our Lourdes Duarte reports, one is traditional, the other, one-of-a-kind.

“It’s really a time capsule, says Curie English teacher and audio yearbook club adviser Sam Geraci. “That’s really the purpose of a yearbook.” Mr. Geraci calls high school yearbooks “lifelong treasures.”

He remembers the day five years ago that he and his students released their first print yearbook. “And so I was so happy. And then I saw a student who really was happy to have it, but didn’t really get to enjoy all the graphics that we did, all the pictures that we took. You know there’s just no way that you can enjoy it if you can’t see it.”

So, Mr. Geraci asked his students, “How can we give the yearbook experience to kids who can’t see?” After a few brainstorming sessions, the Curie High School audio yearbook was born. “We just try to capture the sounds of the school, capture you know, what we see in pictures through sound.” Mr. Geraci admits the first few years were pretty rough, poor quality audio recordings of random school events. But this school year, Mr. Geraci made some important staffing choices, inviting Senior Miguel Soto, who has been blind since the age of three, and Junior Alexis Tellez, who is hearing impaired, to join the audio yearbook club. “I got the chicken pox,” says Miguel. “I was only going to be blind from my right eye. But, it spread to my left eye.”

Miguel has always had a hearing impairment. “I think I was born like that cause when I was a baby I think I got infected you know.”

Mr. Geraci says it was the first club either student had been asked to join. “You see signs throughout the building posted about clubs. The blind students can’t see those signs. We’ve had an increase of students with visual impairments joining clubs. And they’re normally students who are not included.” Alexis immediately jumped on board. “So when I heard of audio yearbook, I was like oh, I can do that.” Mr. Geraci also recruited television broadcast teacher Elio Rodriguez, to help boost the quality of their finished product. He tells Alexis, “I like how you did this! Even Alexis and Miguel didn’t really understand it at first, until they heard the first track which was the intro; “And we are the audio yearbook club.”

“That’s when they got it. That’s when they realized, we’re onto something here.” Miguel listens to a music clip his teacher has chosen. “Why did you pick that song Mr. Rodriguez? “I thought it was funky.” “You would!” The 2014 audio yearbook will focus on Curie’s many clubs. This is an audio clip mixed with music from this year’s yearbook. “The LEO club is a service learning club where students in Curie can earn service learning hours by doing projects with the community.” Miguel says, “We’ve got a lot of clubs in here and people don’t know about them. You put that CD in there and you know about the clubs. I go with Alexis and talk to the teachers, you know when would be the perfect time to record you and could you have two students available?”

The other important audio they’ll gather this year is what they call “signatures.” Instead of teachers or friends writing nice things about visually impaired students, they’ll say them into a tape recorder that will be transferred to a C.D., for their ears only. This is what Mr. Geraci had to say for Miguel’s signature. “Miguel, of all the students I’ve encountered and I’ve encountered some terrific students, you’re really just a promising young man.” Miguel appreciates the privacy. “I’d rather hear my signatures when they say stuff, cool stuff about me. It’s personal. You know, I don’t want other people reading about it, I’d rather hear it myself.” “When these kids are older, they’ll have it, and they’ll press play,” says Mr. Geraci. “Everything sounds great! It sounds really good!” “It does!”

Only a handful of Curie kids are visually impaired. But, these teachers say they’d produce an audio yearbook even if there was only one. Their plan is to give every student at Curie an audio yearbook. And Mr. Geraci hopes an angel investor will see this story and find a way to make audio yearbooks at *every school. Please share this story with family and friends.

Producer Pam Grimes, and photojournalist Steve Scheuer, also contributed to this report.


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