Story by Kim Craft

Early in her academic career Alice Loma received advice to set her sights low, that because of her disability she could be considered a liability in the workplace. But Loma didn't listen.

Says Loma, "it was enough that it motivated me to continue with my education and pursue my goals into education."

Still the odds were against Loma. Native American students drop out of high school at a rate higher than any other group in the US, and those who do make it to college rarely collect a diploma. A unique partnership between the Tohono O'Ohdam nation and the University of Arizona helps improve the numbers and supported Loma in achieving her goal. Begun in 2000, the Tohono O'dham Community College partnered with the University of Arizona to recruit and prepare Native American K-12 educators. In 2006 Project NATIVE III expanded to include graduate studies in the fields of special education and educational leadership.

After receiving a masters in education from the University of Arizona, Loma landed this job teaching preschool at the Foundation for Blind Children in Phoenix Arizona.

Research has shown that the first five years of life are the most critical period of development, so the Foundation begins working with visually impaired children from infancy. It's estimated that in the first three years of life , up to 90 percent of what a child learns is learned visually. In this classroom Loma helps her students learn to "see" the world in new ways. In the few months she's been on the job Loma has seen a great deal of improvement.

"A lot of them were not mobile. They didn’t have that initiative to try to explore, and now I’m constantly moving because these students are everywhere. They’re wanting to learn," says Loma.

Vision problems affect one in twenty preschool-age children, and twenty five percent of school-age children. In order to succeed in school and in life, the blind child needs to acquire certain critical skills. These include methods for reading and writing, and the means for moving about freely and safely. Loma says the preschool program gives these kids the head start they need before they enroll in kindergarten.

Loma says, "here they take them as young as three and you keep them until they turn five. So you’re constantly working with the students until they have an an idea of the concepts you’re teaching them."

Growing up on the Hopi reservation Loma says she was blessed to have visually impaired grandparents who inspired her to maintain her independence when her own vision began to fail as a young girl. Daily Loma builds on her strong foundation for the future of these students. But reality belies optimism. For many reasons, low expectations and negative attitudes may account for the lack of achievment among the visually impaired. Blind adults are less well educated than the general population.

The average number of years of education for blind adults is about 11. About 40 percent do not have a high school diploma and only twelve percent are college graduates. In contrast, only 25 percent of the general population of adults does not have a high school education; 18 percent have a college or graduate degree. Only one in three visually impaired people of employment age is in the workforce. Loma sincerely believes that the numbers do not have to repeat.

"What motivates me is I don’t want anyone to say these students cant succeed or they can’t move forward. I strongly believe that if the atmosphere is right they can only build on what they’ve learned. So it's just coming in every day and knowing that these students are willing to learn, is what I’m looking at," says Loma.

There are 15 million blind or visually impaired people in the US. Every seven minutes a person in the United states loses their sight, often as part of the aging process. In Hopi the word "Loma" means "something new." The teacher who embodies that definition harkens to a brighter vision of the future.