BHS Parent Newsletter - June 3, 2022

Dates to Remember

Aug. 7 - Family Open House

Aug. 9 - Boarding Students Return

Aug. 10 - First Day of School

from the principals banner

Justin Cosgrove, Assistant Principal

Another year is in the books. It's amazing how far our students come each year. We had a wonderful graduation week. Our awards ceremony and graduation ceremony were fantastic. It was great to see the seniors go through the finish line. We are proud of them and wish them well.

The past few weeks were filled with end of course exams and FSA tests. Our students gave it their all and hopefully they can relax for a bit. I am very proud of our students and staff for their effort this year. The staff's commitment to our students is second to none and they will rest up and be back for another school year.

Thank you all for your support this and every year. We hope you have a restful and fun summer and we look forward to having you back in August.

Student News banner

Character Matters at FSDB

Karen Kolkedy, School Counselor

Brady Lawrence Simmer (Junior) and Alejandro Gironas Albarran (Senior) of the Blind High School were selected to receive an American Youth Character Award (AYCA) for representing the Six Pillars of Character. They attended a banquet with FSDB administration at the Renaissance Resort at the World Golf Village with all of the high school winners in St. Johns County. Many hundreds of community members, school staff and family members paid tribute to Brady and Alex, along with other nominees.

Brady had described a mentor (Coach Dayton Newman) who has made a great impact on him and who attended the Banquet with Brady. Brady appreciated all that he has learned from his mentor including respect, responsibility, and citizenship. Coach Newman has helped Brady be a better team leader and to always keep trying.

Alex had described his mentor (Coach Varis Davis) as one who has inspired Alex and attended the Banquet as well. Coach Varis Davis has taught Alex responsibility, respect, and discipline. Alex feels these qualities will help him succeed in life as they not only apply to sports, but to life in general.

Braille Challenge Finalists

Leah Belger, Braille Specialist

The Braille Challenge has announced its finalists and 3 students from FSDB have made the finals! The Braille Challenge is hosted by the Braille Institute of America, encouraging students from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to compete by testing fundamental braille skills including reading comprehension, spelling, speed and accuracy, proofreading, and charts and graphs. All students can compete in the preliminary Braille Challenge events, which are typically held from January through mid-March, but only the top 50 students (10 in each category) with the highest scores are invited for the final round – two days of competition, camaraderie and fun in Southern California this summer!

Congratulations go out to 2nd grader Maely Porter, 7th grader Khloe Miller, and 10th grader Savannah Lindberg!

Academics Banner

Ms. Bilancio Retires

Second-grade teacher Ms. Mary Bilancio, Ms. "B." to those who know her, has been serving visually impaired children for 35 years. Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, she is proud to be a 3rd generation Floridian. She graduated from Florida State University in 1980 with a degree in Visual Disabilities, and from University of Florida in 2003 with a masters degree in Special Education/Reading. Her certifications include Elementary Education, Varying Exceptionalities, and Visual Impairment, with endorsements in ESOL, Reading, and Orientation & Mobility.

Ms. B. taught many of our current high school students when they were in elementary school and she followed their school careers with genuine interest and pride. Ms. B. leaves us with this reflection: "As a veteran teacher of 35 years I leave FSDB with a lifetime of experiences and memories that reflect an incredible career. My favorite memories involve the Super Bowl with FSDB performing, the annual vocabulary showcase and the countless field trips, which are so important for our visually impaired students! The greatest joy in life is to find something you love and do it every day. It has been my pleasure watching these children grow up and each one has left a footprint on my heart."

Ms Bilancio stands surrounded by current high school students who had her as a teacher in elementary school

Ms. B. surrounded with several of her former students. These now-high school students gathered to surprise her during a school parade in her honor as she has retired.

Special Events banner
Brigit Jensen, Senior Class Sponsor

Last week the Senior class of BHS spent two full days having fun and making memories with their cohort. We started Monday by decorating our graduation caps while cooking pancakes, eggs, and sausage. Then we headed off to the mall for some much-needed teenage mall walking and shopping sprees. We ended the day on trampolines, rock climbing walls, and laser tag arenas.

We slept in Tuesday morning, then attended a private showing at the movie theatre, an afternoon at a water park, and a lovely evening by a Hibachi grill. Wednesday was trying on gowns, practicing our walks, group pictures, and a parade through campus. Senior awards, dinner, and commencement all showed us how much we have grown and how much we deserved this win.

Thank you to all our friends, families, and FSDB for your support. Go BHS Class of 2022!

Overhead angle of various completed decorated graduation caps

A view of some of the decorated graduation caps

Senior Spotlight banner

This issue completes our spotlight on the graduated seniors of the BHS Class of 2022!

Natalie Cruz

Natalie Cruz, from Cocoa and Palm Bay Florida, is the Class of 2022 Vice President, an honor Graduate, a National Honor Society member, and Valedictorian. At FSDB, she was active on the Goalball and Soccer team, Student Advisory Council, Chorus, and in Girl Scouts; she also took part in the drama club, book club, ski club, outdoor club, writing club, debate club, and Young Life. Her favorite memories from FSDB are all the ones where she got to spend time with her friends. She said, “I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life.” Natalie has taken several College courses at Saint Johns River State College and has earned 24 college credits and this fall Natalie has been accepted at the University of Central Florida, where she plans to major in Criminal Justice, with hope of one day becoming a Criminal Profiler. Natalie was the recipient of the Eric Schwarz Memorial Scholarship, FSDB Valedictorian Achievement Award, and FSDB Board of Trustees Foundation Scholarship.

Laura Dignin

Laura Elizabeth Dignin of Riverview, Florida describes herself as being creative (especially in her writing). Laura also shares that she enjoys writing her own novel series and reading Native American mythology. Laura shared that she is thoughtful, compassionate and spiritual. Laura’s favorite moments were at the Center Academy where she enjoyed celebrations at the end of the week. Laura has had a summer work experience at Publix and has also volunteered at Echo, a resource for homeless women and children. Laura will work with resources in her home community as she pursues employment working as an author developing her novel series.

Theotis Durden, Jr.

Theotis Leon Durden, Jr. is from St. Augustine, Florida. At FSDB, he was active in Color Guard, Student Leadership, Drama Club, and Goalball. Theotis stated, “The day is finally here. I have overcome so many struggles, but that made me the person I am, and created a unique me.” Theotis plans to start a vending enterprise in Daytona with plans to earn a real estate license. Theotis’s future college blueprint includes a degree in Business Administration. Theotis was the recipient of the AFSCME Award and the Randolph Shepard Venders of Florida Scholarship.

Juan Garcia-Almanza, Jr.

Juan Esteban Garcia-Almanza, Jr. is from Eustis. Juan is the Class of 2022 President, an honor roll student, and worked with youth and future business leaders. At FSDB, he was active on the wrestling team, Blind Cadence Drumline, and Concert Band; he also took part in the Ski Club, Young Life, and Construction on campus, where he even went and helped Habitat for Humanity build houses. Juan’s favorite moments at FSDB are just hanging out with his friends. Juan plans on returning to FSDB this fall to pursue culinary certification at First Coast Technical College and become the next Gordon Ramsey.

Jose Giron Reyes

Jose Yassir Giron Reyes is from Miami. He was born in the country of Honduras. Jose came to FSDB in the eighth grade to seek his true potential. Jose was a member of the FSDB goalball team, and a defining moment for him was winning the national championship in goalball. Being chosen “Mr. Personality” of FSDB was another proud moment for Jose. He served as president of the Debate Club and was active in Young Life, goalball, and Drama Club. Jose received the St Augustine City Commission Citizenship Award, the First Coast Civitan Award, St Johns County Board of Realtors Scholarship and the FSDB Board of Trustees Scholarship. Jose plans to attend the Florida State College at Jacksonville to earn a degree in Political Science. Jose stated that his greatest hope is to make a change in the world.

Alejandro Gironas

Alejandro Gironas, from Crestview, Florida is an Honor Graduate. Alex was a Key Club and Student Council member at the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and continues to be a model student at FSDB including being an active member of the ski club, wrestling team, and Goalball team. Alex was also the Class of 2022’s Homecoming Prince and has represented his class well. Alex was the recipient of the Frederic Chopin Piano Award, Character Counts Award, and the Dr. Norm Tully Scholarship. Next fall Alex plans on attending the University of West Florida where he will work towards a career in Cyber Security, focusing on government contracts.

Dejonae Levers

Dejonae Daveigh Sophina Levers was born in Jamaica and came to the United States at the age of six, now residing in Fort Lauderdale. Dejonae joined FSDB in the fifth grade. Dejonae is an Honor Graduate and Salutatorian for the Class of 2022. Dejonae was active in Goalball, which she considered a favorite sport. She also participated in Girl Scouts, Book Club, Ski Club, and National Honor Society. Dejonae stated, “My years at FSDB have done well in preparing me for my future. Thanks to Achieve3000, I found my dream career: Environmental Lawyer. Without FSDB, I would have never known something so glorious existed. Thank you FSDB.” Dejonae was one of the recipients of the FSDB Board of Trustees Scholarships and the FSDB Salutatorian Achievement Award. This fall, Dejonae plans to attend Florida International University in Miami.

Aaliyah McKneely

Aaliyah Faith Rain McKneely is from Fernandina Beach. Aaliyah started FSDB in Kindergarten. Aaliyah was runner up in the FSDB pageant as she performed a favorite song, “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran. Extracurricular activities included N’Vision, OuttaSight, Drumline, Writing Club, Drama Club, Young Life, Outdoors Club, Girl Scouts, and Band. Aaliyah was selected for the Young Life Achievement Award, Mr. James Della Penna Award, and the John Philip Sousa Band Award. Aaliyah’s post high school plans include working in the family’s limousine business as part of the customer service.

Elijah Mehrkens-Rosenbaum

Elijah Henry Mehrkens-Rosenbaum is from Jacksonville, Florida by way of Chicago, Illinois. Eli has been at FSDB for 4 years now. He has worked with the youth on campus and has been an advocate for many students. Eli has been an active member of Young Life, the Goalball team and Co-founded the Hockey Club. His favorite memory here was going to Young Life Camp. Eli plans on returning to FSDB this fall to work towards his AA at Saint Johns River State College and work in Massage Therapy.

John Montes

John Alexander Montes, from Saint Cloud, Florida, came to FSDB from the New York Institute for Special Education. John is the FSDB Class of 2022 Salutatorian and an Honor Graduate. At NYISE, John was a member of the Goalball and Track and Field Teams. After coming to FSDB he continued his All-Star reign with the Cobras as Captain of the Goalball team and took on more roles with the Yearbook Committee and the Drama Club. John has held office at both schools as a Student Council Representative and works hard to support his classmates. John's greatest memory at FSDB is leading the Goalball team to a USABA National Championship. John has been accepted at Valencia College, where he plans to major in Film Production and Screenwriting pursuing a degree and career in Filmmaking.

Amiah Richardson

Amiah Brooke Richardson is from Orlando. At FSDB, Amiah was active on Color Guard, the cheerleading squad, wrestling team and track team; she also took part in the clay club, outdoor club, yearbook committee, and Student Council. Amiah’s favorite memory at FSDB was her time at the 2022 Senior Prom. Amiah has been accepted at Valencia College in Orlando, where she plans to major in English Education and pursue a career as a Secondary English Teacher.

Sabrina Rodriguez-Aleman

Sabrina Alicia Rodriguez-Aleman is from Homestead, Florida. She transferred to FSDB in the 10th grade from Keys Gate Charter School. Sabrina has always been active in dance and art. At Keys Gate she was in dance and film class, and here she participated in horticulture, Young Life, Yearbook, and theatre. She has done the make-up for several on-campus productions, worked in the Print Shop, and edited the yearbook layout. Sabrina’s favorite memory at FSDB was her time at the 2022 Senior Prom. Sabrina was accepted at Miami-Dade College and Valencia College. She will major in Restorative Art on her path to becoming a mortician.

Victoria Tena

Victoria Esperanza Tena of Silver Springs, Florida describes herself as friendly, helpful to others and very independent. One of Victoria’s favorite moments at FSDB was when she first joined and met many friends and teachers. She was also very proud when she was named Senior Prom Queen. Victoria has been involved in Outdoor Club, Girl Scouts and Chorus. She also was in Book Club, Young Life Youth Ministry and has taken piano lessons for three years. Victoria wants to work in the food service industry as a baker. She enjoys baking cakes, muffins and cobblers with her mother. Victoria will work with the Division of Blind Services and the Florida Center for the Blind in Ocala, Florida as she pursues her goals. Victoria has also received the Elizabeth Glidden Scholarship which is for blind students who are avid readers.

Tristin Vera

Tristin Calob Vera of Hastings, Florida describes himself as a student who enjoys science, technology and music. He sees himself as kind, respectful and helpful. Tristin’s favorite memories at the Florida School for The Deaf and The Blind are times with his friends and his teachers. Tristin is planning on returning to FSDB for the Continuing Education Program where he will continue to develop employment skills. In the future he would like to work with technology or as an electrician.

Additional Awards

Several awards and scholarships were presented to seniors who were spotlighted in prior issue:

Reina Allen - Patrick Dominick Hopkins Scholarship, FSDB Board of Trustees Foundation Scholarship

Yanissa Baez - Sherwood Hampton Tribute Award

Jesse Brown - Mr. James Della Penna Award, Association of Former Students and Friends of the School for the Blind, Inc. Award

Autumn Burcker - AFSCME Award, Randolph Shepard Venders of Florida

Amber Cain - FSDB+EA Scholarship, Delta Gamma Foundation Scholarship, FSDB Board of Trustees Foundation Scholarship

Theotis receiving award from Randolph Shepard. He has a shocked look on his face
Theotis reacts to receiving a scholarship check from Randolph Shepard.
Parent Services banner

Family Bonding Time: Activity #17

Spending quality time with family and loved ones can improve social skills, boost children’s confidence and increase feelings of happiness.

17. Take time to enjoy each other - Be sure to take time to just sit and relax and talk to each other. Ask your child to show you their favorite video game, or listen to their favorite music. Play a family game together. Go out for ice cream. Let your child plan "the perfect day."


How to access student school photos:

  1. Go to
  2. Click “Find Your Photos”
  3. Enter your child’s Gallery ID number in the box. (Note: Child’s ID number is his/her 5-digit lunch pin number.

If your child does not know the number, please contact administrative assistant Ms. Linda Comeaux.

Contact Us

BHS Office

PH: 904-827-2715

Health Care Center

PH: 904-827-2410

VP: 904-201-3910


PH: 800-992-8747

Koger Hall (Girls Dorm)

PH: 904-827-2733

MacWilliams Hall (Boys Dorm)

PH: 904-827-2725

Apartments – Boys (Seniors)

PH: 904-827-8247

Apartments – Girls (Seniors)

PH: 904-827-2510

Parent Services

PH: 904-827-2212

VP: 904-201-4527

Campus Police

PH: 904-827-2315

The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, sex, religion, national origin, political opinion, affiliation, marital status, genetic information, disability, veteran status or any other basis as mandated by federal and state law in its educational programs, services or activities, or in its hiring or employment practices. FSDB also provides equal access to the Boy Scouts and other designated youth groups as required by law.

Contacts for questions, complaints, or requests for additional information are as follows:

Student Discrimination/Harassment

FSDB Boarding Program Administrator

PH: 904-827-2603

Requests in writing can be sent to:

Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind

207 San Marco Avenue

St. Augustine, FL 32084