Graduation: Challenges just part of learning process for Nathan Morgan
By Sarah Nagem
Nathan Morgan ran his fingers along the yellow plastic, taking in its shape and feeling the bumps that represent mountains.
“That’s California,” Morgan said. “I can tell by its roughness. … It’s got lots of mountains on it.”
Then he picked up another piece. “That one’s Texas there.”
Morgan, 20, can’t learn some things in traditional ways. He can’t memorize states by looking on a map. Instead, he identifies them in a jigsaw puzzle based on their shapes and terrains.
Morgan was born with detached retinas. The surgeries he underwent as a child didn’t restore his sight.
But that hasn’t stopped Morgan from reaching the familiar milestones of growing up. Morgan will earn an academic certificate from East Rowan High School this week.
Unlike some visually impaired students who choose to attend special schools, Morgan has always gone to public schools. He started at East four years ago.
Morgan is happy his parents kept him in the public school system.
“I’m getting to know more friends and more people,” Morgan said.
He spent a summer during his elementary school years at the Gov. Morehead School for the blind in Raleigh. He hated it, said his mother, Debbie Morgan.
“He’s very family-oriented,” Debbie Morgan said.
Morgan enjoys cooking dinner with his mom and helping out in the kitchen. It’s a pleasure that the school helped encourage.
This year, Morgan took a foods class at East, where he learned to make brownies, cookies and cakes. He also got to interact with students who did not have special needs.
Taking regular classes has meant a lot to Morgan. His one-on-one instructor, Raymondo Brady, attends classes with Morgan and encourages him to talk to other students.
Brady, a patient man who works as a teacher’s assistant, taught Morgan to identify the states. During tests, Brady reads the questions to Morgan and marks down his answers.
When Morgan started at East, he was part of a program that included a simpler curriculum. He stayed with the same group of students all day, learning about things like colors, shapes and numbers.
But his intelligence moved him into the occupational career track, Brady said.
The change was “a great move,” said Brenda Stevens, a teacher of visually impaired students in the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
This year, Morgan focused on becoming more independent.
“He can leave here between classes in these crowded hallways and get to his next class,” Stevens said.
Sometimes Morgan used a cane to help him navigate the halls. Sometimes a sighted guide lead him.
Morgan especially enjoyed his chorus class. He has been in the school’s chorus since he started attending East.
He loves to sing, and now he’s taking guitar lessons. Last year, Morgan made a CD called “Songs I Love To Sing.” The album consists of country and Christian songs.
Morgan has performed at church and local nursing homes, and he hopes to continue making music.
“Learning to play an instrument is hard to do,” Morgan said.
It’s harder, he says, than learning Braille. Morgan started to learn about the intricate system of raised dots in elementary school, but he has gotten much better at it recently, Stevens says.
Morgan will return to East next school year to continue improving his Braille skills. The law allows him to stay in high school until he is 22.Morgan will earn his high school diploma in December.
“He’s taking it one year at a time,” Stevens said.
In addition to Braille and social interaction skills, Morgan is also learning some living skills most people take for granted.
Recently, Brady helped Morgan prepare for his senior presentation, where he highlighted his high school experiences to school officials.
Before the presentation, Brady stood with Morgan, guiding his hands through the motions of tying a neck tie.
Upon completing the task, Brady said, “You just tied a tie, buddy.”
Morgan felt the cloth’s knot near his neck. “Pretty neat,” he said.
It might be a skill Morgan will need later in life. He’s not sure what he wants to do in terms of a career, but he’s interested in grooming animals.
Morgan has worked several jobs, including wiping down tables at a local restaurant and helping out at SupplyOne, the packing company in Rockwell where his mother works.
Debbie Morgan is looking into online college programs she could help her son with in the evenings.
“Hopefully he can find something that he can …. be successful at,” she said.
She knows her son can overcome anything. He weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces when he was born.
“He was my miracle baby,” she said.