Campus: CSU, Los Angeles -- December 17, 1999

Cal State L.A. Graduate Recognized as "Year 2000 Teacher of the Year"

Alicia Zermeno, 1996 master's degree alumna of the Orientation & Mobility Specialist Training Program at California State University, Los Angeles, is the recipient of the Sacramento County Office of Education's (SCOE) "Year 2000 Teacher of the Year" award.

Nominated for this title by the principal of her school, Zermeno says that, as a new teacher, she did not expect to be recognized for this honor. Clearly her many contributions to her students and her community preside over her few years of teaching experience.

Prepared by Cal State L.A. to teach skills in independent movement and travel to persons who are blind or visually impaired, Zermeno describes her orientation and mobility specialist career as a unique and challenging one. "I am a teacher outside the classroom walls," Zermeno explains. "My 'classroom' is on school campuses, at stores, on public transportation, and at street intersections. During a community-based lesson, I can work on at least five different daily living skills without the student even knowing it. Often, those in school and home environments may not expect much from a child with a visual impairment, but this is not how the world will treat them. It's our duty to expect the best from these children and push them toward independence."

When asked what she remembers best about her training at Cal State L.A., Zermeno replies, "I remember walking into a tree during my blindfold instruction because my cane skills were 'off.' My kids [students] really relate to that experience. They're always surprised that I had to learn the skills that I teach them."

In addition to her students, Zermeno is actively involved with the youth of her community. Volunteering for the Make-a-Wish Foundation in Sacramento, Zermeno acts as a Wish Team Member. As a "wish-maker," Zermeno gets to know children with life-threatening diseases and works with families and the foundation to ensure that each child's wish comes true. As a board member for the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project, she assists in organizing activities and functions for students to learn about their heritage. Activities include participating in a mock trial at the capitol building, learning about career opportunities, listening to guest speakers, and filling out college and scholarship applications.

When asked the secret of her success, Zermeno responds, "To be a successful orientation and mobility specialist, I need to have a special bond with my students. Not only am I their teacher, but I'm also someone they must trust when faced with frightening experiences. They also know that they cannot get away with the excuse, 'I can't do that because I'm blind' because I will ask them 'Why not?' "

The Orientation & Mobility Specialist Training Program at Cal State L.A. is currently recruiting candidates with a bachelor's degree who have a strong desire and demonstrated ability to work with people of all ages. Federal grants provide living stipends, full registration, and books to qualified candidates.

For more information about a career as an orientation and mobility specialist, contact Dr. Diane Fazzi, associate professor and coordinator of the Orientation & Mobility Specialist Training Program at Cal State L.A., (323) 343-4411.

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