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Visually Impaired Kids Learn Art, Life Skills at UWS School

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE —When you're a blind or visually-impaired child, you're often forced to rely on others for basic needs, such as feeding yourself and getting around the city.

But at the Jewish Guild for the Blind's art therapy class on Wednesday, students did something unusual: created something on their own terms, with little or no help.

"This is one of the few places where they can make independent choices and follow-through on it," said art therapist Sarah Valeri.

That's a key life skill for the students — many of whom are developmentally disabled — to learn, Valeri said.

Valeri and Tanapol Pachoei, executive director of the Children Art Foundation, guided five Jewish Guild for the Blind students through the art class.

The school at 15 W. 65th St. serves about 50 students ages 5 through 21 who are blind, visually-impaired and have other disabilities.

At Wednesday's class, some students made necklaces and crowns out of colorful beads. Some made colorful creations out of purple, red and blue cellophane and colored tape.

Students who couldn't see well relied on their hands to guide them through their projects.

Gabriel Tolama, 14, of Coney Island, built a tent for some clay snakes. Tolama said he liked the art class "because I get to make stuff."

But teaching students art serves a larger purpose too, Pachoei said.

"Our goal is to have them create artwork so they have the feeling that they're creating something big," Pachoei said. "It creates a sense of confidence for them."

Principal Patricia Finocchiaro said she saw students' confidence bloom when their work was exhibited at the Asian Cultural Center art gallery recently.

"It was amazing, their reaction to having an art show," Finocchiaro said. "It validated them and made them feel so important."