Blind Watsonville man realizes dream of ‘snagging’ GED


Blind Watsonville man realizes dream of ‘snagging’ GED

SANTA CRUZ, Jun 16, 2012 (Santa Cruz Sentinel – McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) — As much as Bill Henson learned from his teachers and tutors about math and language arts, the soft-spoken man taught them even more about perseverance and gumption.

The 27-year-old Watsonville resident, who is believed to be the only fully blind student at the Santa Cruz Adult School in a generation, graduated Thursday night with his General Educational Development after acquiring his own books and tests prepared in Braille.

And he didn’t just complete his GED; he excelled. Staff chose him as Student of the Year, a title that automatically comes with membership in the National Adult Education Honors Society and letters of recommendation for jobs and scholarships.

Henson entered the Adult School program three years ago determined to earn his high school equivalency degree. Not having it kept him from work and the dream of a higher education.

“It’s something that has eluded me for many years, and I finally just reached up and I snagged it,” Henson said Friday before his shift at the Ugly Mug, the Soquel Village institution where he works two days per week washing dishes and fetching supplies. “It was a lot of hard work and commitment and showing up.”

Henson, who hopes to register at Cabrillo College next spring, was an endless source of inspiration at the school, which graduated nearly two dozen others last week, all of whom overcame their own obstacles to complete diplomas or GEDs. A host of other students graduated from alternative education programs offered by the county Office of Education.


For Henson, teachers learned to adapt their instruction style to accommodate his blindness. Fellow students looked to him as proof they could push themselves even harder.

“He is a very resourceful person, his own strongest advocate,” said Rebecca Weber, Henson’s teacher and captain of “Team Bill,” made up of educators at the Adult School where Weber’s worked for 33 years.

When Henson registered for classes in 2009, few at the school knew he was blind. When he discovered the school had no Braille materials, he set out to find his own books, study guides and tests — acquiring them through the Library of Congress and, a U.S. Department of Education website for alternative materials.

“He is the pioneer,” Weber said.

Henson took science, English, social studies and language arts before taking a year off. He resumed his studies in 2011, taking on math, which proved especially tough for him and his teachers.

Accustomed to explaining math problems by writing them out, Adult School tutor Penny Chesluk had to reach Henson in a different way.

“He made me see how much I rely on students seeing the work and putting something out there and saying, ‘Do you see this?'” she said. “With Bill, it had to be all oral. Sometimes I would feel badly that I was overloading him, but he had a huge focus and is very attentive.”

With the help of other tutors Rick Gladstone and Seth Burton, Henson eventually began to envision math problems in his mind’s eye.

“It really got me focused on what I needed to focus on, not only getting through it but studying it and really knowing it and understanding,” he said.


Henson was born with retinopathy of prematurity, a condition caused by “abnormal blood vessel development in the retina of premature infant,” according to the National Institutes of Health. He could see out of his right eye until he was 13, at which time he lost his vision entirely.

For years he attended a special education program, learning computer skills and eventually earning a certificate, but said “it wasn’t enough.” When he filled out job applications, he hoped potential employers would overlook the fact that he didn’t graduate high school.

“I can’t avoid it,” he remembered thinking. “I’ve got to hit it head on.”

For 10 hours a week, he studied at the Adult School in addition to working and volunteering at a local nonprofit. He got around using Paracruz, Metro’s door-to-door van service for disabled residents.

After nailing the math test with a score of 570 — 410 is passing — he finally achieved his goal, accepting his degree as family and friends looked on.

Mother Kelly Henson of Watsonville said, “I was just overwhelmed with emotion when he called me up and told me he passed the test. What he’s overcome goes to show you can do anything.”

Adult Education student Lamia Mghari of Santa Cruz, who came here from Morocco five months ago and hopes to earn her degree in August, said going back to school is a big step for anyone. But, she added, “I was just blessed to see Bill doing all the hard work. He doesn’t see, but he sees with his heart and mind.”

Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown on Twitter @jmbrownreports

___ (c)2012 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) Visit the Santa
Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at Distributed
by MCT Information Services

Copyright (C) 2012, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.



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