BEMS Parent Newsletter - June 3, 2022

Big picture

Dates to Remember

June 13-17 - STEAM Summer Camp

June 13-July 1 - Summer K-2 Camp

June 20-24 - Summer Day Camp

Aug. 7 - Family Open House

Aug. 9 - Boarding Students Return

Aug. 10 - First Day of School

From the principals banner

Fertsch's Files

Ellen Fertsch, Assistant Principal BEMS

Greetings Families,

Here we are at the end of the school year! It has been quite the journey these past couple of years, and together, we made it through. Wishing you all a restful and joyful summer break.

Our final newsletter of the 2021-2022 school year is filled with a plethora of happenings and fun! Thank you always for the opportunity to work with your children, and please do reach out over the summer with any questions you may have regarding the upcoming school year. Enjoy this time with your children and enjoy some time for you!

Warm Regards

Student News Banner

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!

8th Grade Graduates sitting in a line on stage. They are all wearing dress clothes.

8th Grade Graduation

The Blind Middle School 8th Grade Class graduated on Wednesday, June 1. Prior to the start of the ceremony, a video spotlighting each student played. The program featured speeches by Teacher Representative Hillary Norman, Assistant Principal Ellen Fertsch, Blind Department Principal Carol Bogue, and FSDB President Tracie Snow. Several students were awarded scholarships and achievement awards. Each student independently walked across the stage in the Music Building to receive their diploma. The celebration ended with a sweets and treats reception in the lobby.
student spotlight banner

Spotlight on Eighth Grade

In today's edition we spotlight the rest of our group of eighth grade graduates.

Addison Allen

Addison has been at FSDB for 3 years and is excited to be moving to high school, where he has taken advanced math classes during his 7th and 8th grade years. As you may guess, math is his favorite subject.

Addison has 1 sister, who just graduated from Blind High School last week, and 2 dogs. He enjoys playing sports of all kinds and getting know his new teammates. He also enjoys playing video games.

Addison likes that he can fit in at FSDB because everyone has a disability, and he appreciates that the staff tries their hardest to provide a great experience.

Damian Palacios

Damian also joined FSDB 3 years ago and is happy he came. His favorite subjects are history, music, reading, and tech. He is thankful for his family who pushes him to achieve more and support his hobby of music, encouraging him to become the best drummer, bassist, and guitarist.

Damian's favorite thing about FSDB is the sports and music programs and how well the teachers are at helping students. His favorite memory so far is performing on the Drumline at the concert with his friends. He would share with a potential student that FSDB is a great school and is worth all the risks like leaving home for the majority of the week. He adds that he will miss middle school and promises to come back and visit.

Logan Strickland

Logan has also been at FSDB for 3 years. His favorite subjects are math, science, and music, and his favorite club is Outdoor Club. He most likes getting to go cool places during mobility lessons.

Logan's favorite hobby is playing audio games on the computer. His reply to what he would tell a potential student is that FSDB is a great school and you will learn a lot about technology. He continues that he went from barely knowing anything about computers when he arrived in 6th grade, to developing his own audio games by 8th grade.

Brooke Witherington

Brooke has attended FSDB for six years. Her favorite subjects are ELA and history. When not in school, she enjoys hanging out with her family, making TikToks, going outside, and playing basketball.

Brooke's favorite thing about FSDB is that the staff is nice and helpful. She enjoys mobility and learning how to do new things. Her favorite memory is participating in the school plays in elementary school. To a potential student, she would tell them that the staff is nice and you get all the accommodations that you need to be successful, and that there are a lot of fun things to do.

Special Events banner

Congratulations to Our Graduating Fifth Graders

Marcella Carpenter, Elementary Teacher

On May 19th, third through fifth grade in Blind Elementary School had an award ceremony to honor students for all of their hard work and accomplishments. Many different teachers and staff came to reward students for their achievements this year. Students received character awards, reading awards, math awards, music awards, PE awards, PBS awards, technology awards, and honor roll pins.

After the 3-5 ceremony, fifth graders then marched in to Pomp & Circumstance, where they were then medaled and given their diplomas for finishing elementary school! Congratulations to the following fifth graders: McKenzie Clark, Takiah Coleman, Juniell Crespo, Moses Jeudy, Tristan Mason, and Hannah Sorrel!

Fifth graders stand in a row, holding their 5th grade diplomas. Each is wearing a black, felt graduation cap with a yellow tassel.

Third graders celebrating that they all passed their FSA!!

5 third-graders stand smiling, while eating donuts

Art Festival

Marcella Carpenter, Art Club Sponsor

On May 19th, K-5 participated in an Art Festival hosted by Blind Ambition Art Club at FSDB. Students interacted with different mediums of art as they traveled room-to-room in Blind Elementary School to complete the projects. The art pieces included: ink press, marble painting, clay magnets, decorating tote bags, rain sticks, and edible art with dirt pudding.

Battle of the Books

Joy Carriger, Media Specialist

Congratulations to this year's Battle of the Books winners! Students in grades 3-5 and students in grades 6-8 each read books all year from the Sunshine State Young Reader Award list. Students then compete in grade level teams to reign supreme. The fabulous 4th grade students won for the elementary battle and the enthusiastic 8th grade students took the victory in the final round.

Michelle Garay, Elementary Teacher

Ms. Joy, Ms. Sapp, and Ms. Garay took the fourth grade Battle of the Books winners on a special field trip to Walmart and McDonald’s to celebrate. Students practiced their ECC skills by discussing career readiness, they advocated for help, used their cane skills, and practiced ordering and paying. A great time was had by all!

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. began her career with her internship in 1980 working with fifth and sixth graders. In 1987 through 2020, she worked with the Parent-Infant Program. As a parent advisor first in Marion County and then in St. Johns County, she served the birth to 6-year-old population of visually impaired and multiply impaired babies. In 2004, she moved to Saint Augustine to teach middle school special education. She then taught K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders, ending with her favorite aged 2nd graders.

Ms. Bilancio has 2 adult children, Nick and Ginet, and a grandson Remy. She lives with a crazy beagle named Barney and 3 cats. She is looking forward to having time to read, work in her yard and go fishing during her retirement.

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. B. surrounded by many of her former students, now high schoolers

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.

Mrs. Carpenter On a New Mission

Mrs. Carpenter's last day at FSDB is today, as her family is moving overseas to pursue full-time ministry. Mrs. Carpenter wants everyone to know: "I will truly miss FSDB, and I’m thankful for all of the opportunities given to me over the years. Thank you for not just caring about me in the work-place, but personally as well. Keep doing awesome things!"

Mrs. Carpenter, her husband Mr. Carpenter, and their baby daughter standing in a park, smiling at the camera for a selfie
Scenes from BEMS banner
3 young students sit or lie in a kiddie pool filled with rubber ducks

Water Day!

celebrate literacy banner

Stories Around the World

Mary Hanson, Speech-Language Pathologist

Ms. Carla Ferber's class presented their book titled Stories Around the World to Media Specialist Ms. Joy. The class read 5 stories representing 4 continents: North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. They learned storytellers use different prompts in order to entertain. One story from Africa used a mbira because these instruments calm both animals and people. Another story used nesting dolls with young kindergarten children when learning to count. And 100 years ago parents entertained their children by drawing as they told stories.

As part of the project, each student made their own thumb piano to take home. During the year these students examined two other thumb pianos: one from Ms. Wohl called a kalimba and another bought in Africa many years ago.

Come to the Cary White Library and check out this book, Stories Around the World.

Third and fourth graders are featured at their literacy celebration event for reading over 100 books! Students made Oreo parfaits.

boarding information banner

What did PB(i)S/Character Education in Blind Elementary School and Dorm look like this school year?

Karen Kolkedy, PB(i(S Coordinator


The Ice Cream Social PB(i)S Kick-Off was a special event for our BEMS students this school year and a memory they look forward to sharing each and every school year. The students spoke with one another, laughed together, and bonded with kindness, cooperation, and respect.

The BES teams nominated a PB(i)S Student of The Week every Friday who demonstrated the 3 B’s and served as a model for their grade. Students looked forward to listening to the weekly messages to see if their name was the one to be called and all students would cheer them on in recognition for a job well done. The chosen student was asked to come to the office before the end of the day to select a special treat and this was always a hit!

The PB(i)S Treats & Trinkets Cart was also a well organized event that was held quarterly this school year. Students had the opportunity to earn PBS tickets in their classrooms, in the hallways, in the cafeteria, and in resource classrooms, busses, and dorms. At the end of each quarter, members of the FSDB staff would roll the treats cart into each classroom where students could spend their tickets on a wide selection of treats.

Holiday Crafts & Cookies for PB(i)S was a BES event that took place the last week before winter break. Students worked in their grade level cohorts to ice and decorate their own cookies by honing in on those very important ECC skills. Once they were done, they made beautiful holiday crafts to take home to their parents as a present.

Our Second Annual PB(i)S Water Day also went out with a SPLASH the last week of school! Students in grades K-5 got together with their friends, teachers, and support staff to get SOAKED while learning through water-based activities such as sinking and floating, buoyancy, and water travel.


PBi(S) has really worked in Kramer Hall Boarding Program, where we have had

less Behavior issues in the dorm. Each school year, we have a PB(i)S Kick-Off and introduce PBi(s) to the students. The staff explain the PB(i)S Expectations, the PBS store and how it works. Students are rewarded several times a day with positive words and compliments and recognition goes on throughout the week for exhibiting Good Behavior or doing a Good Thing. Students demonstrating good behavior, following rules at all times, holding the door for others without being asked and simply doing their best visit the PB(i)S Store on Thursday and get to pick a snack or toy, which they would carry on the bus home. Students are very motivated to continue improving their behavior and they look forward to the next visit to the PB(i)S Store.

We have had three PB(i)S Ice Cream Socials this year. We Welcomed the Blind Elementary Students to Kramer Hall at the beginning of the year with ice cream, we entered "Spring Vacation Break” with more ice cream and finally we had a presentation for students "Stranger Danger" - preparing for the summer by Campus Police- and upon conclusion of the presentation we had even more ice cream--- again with all the wonderful toppings.

Annual PB(i)S Valentine's Dinner - Students bring from home "Dress-up Outfits" and wear their finest for Plummer's Annual Spaghetti Dinner. Dressing up seems to bring out the students’ best behavior. We enjoy spaghetti with all the fixin’s plus we have a peach cobbler and punch. Students enjoy dancing to fabulous music and having fun photos taken.

End of Year PB(i)S Pizza Party and Water Day for Kramer Hall Students took place the last week of school. Students enjoyed chowing down on pizza, dancing to music, and celebrating with awards, gifts and PBS T-shirts for students who have shown improvement in each cooperation, responsibility and respect.

Are you curious about what happened with PB(i)S/Character Education in Blind Middle School and Dorm this school year?

Karen Kolkedy, PB(i)S Coordinator


This school year we tried something new in the middle school- The Cobra Call outs. The PB(i)S Cobra Call Outs were positive affirmations that the student’s wrote about each other and posted in the hallway for everyone to read. The students wrote about things that their peers did that were respectful, responsible or cooperative. Twice a month all of the call outs were taken down and 2 affirmations were pulled and the students who were selected got a special gift card either from Starbucks, Walmart, Chick-Fil-A or Zaxby’s! The students enjoyed this and were super excited to do these for each other. We also recognized the student that wrote the most callouts for taking the time to write something positive about each and every student and staff person in the middle school.

This year we did the PB(i)S Holidays Around the World again! We truly believe in teaching our students tolerance and acceptance of other’s traditions, culture and beliefs. We do this to foster cooperation, respect and a sense of responsibility to care for each other on a daily basis. The holidays we did this year were: Tu Bshevat, Bodhi Day, Winter Solstice, Saint Niklas Eve and New Years Day!

A new celebration we did this year was for EARTH DAY! PB(i)S partnered with our History and Science middle school teachers to put on a really fun PB(i)S BMS Activity that also was meaningful and fostered that sense of respect for our earth, responsibility to keep it clean and how we can cooperate and work together to achieve a healthier Earth. Some booths the students experienced included: Make an edible garden – this booth provided cookie crumbs, chocolate pudding, pretzel sticks and gummy worm. Fire and Ice Science exploration – Karen Daniels performed experiments using heat and ice. Colonial Medicinal Herbs and plants – DD Stein demonstrated herbs and plants that were used in the 1750’s for medicines. Students identified different items by their aromas. Students learned how plants contribute to medicines used today. Animals in the Wild – Ranger Amy of the National Park Service presented animal furs, skulls, and paw prints for students to explore and discuss. Students made clay paw print replicas as a take away.

BLIND MIDDLE SCHOOL BOARDING PROGRAM The PBS Store has been open three times this school year 2021-2022. The store includes candy, hygiene products, cookies, chips, bottled water, flip flops, nail art, ramen noodles, lemonade drink mix and other items. The PBS Store encourages the students to be on their best behavior, to go above and beyond just to get tickets so they can shop at the store. Rewards can help encourage children to do more of the things that are cooperative, responsible and respectful.

In December, the students went to see the movie: Clifford The Big Red Dog at Epic Theater to celebrate PB(i)S. The students had a movie theater all to themselves. Everyone had a drink, popcorn, and candy. This was to reward the students for their good behavior in Cary White. By taking the students to the movies it:

· Boosted mood

· Encouraged relaxation

· Motivated students to choose good behavior in the future

· Inspired social and cultural reflection

The End of the Year PB(i)S Auction/Cookout was a blast. At the auction, the students had all of their PB(I)S tickets that they received all year. Staff were on the grill cooking hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans, mac-n-cheese, cakes, candy, snow cones, drinks, and other food items. There was music, food, drinks, and Fun-Fun-Fun!!!

The End of Year PB(I)S Celebration Dinner was held at Golden Corral on May 25, 2022. The students and staff rode an Annett Bus to the Southside of Jacksonville to Golden Corral All You Can Eat Buffet. They satt, ate, and talked about the school year. They reminisced about how we've grown as a family in Cary White. Some of the students discussed their first day of middle school and first time living in the dorm. The students learned throughout the year to: Keep hands/feet to self. Be kind to others. Use manners. Be a good listener. Allow others to learn. Respect others.

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."
Bulletin board that says Hello Summer. Summer is spelled out with popsicles; beach balls are attached to the wall around it.


How to access student school photos, including events and athletics:

  1. Go to fsdb.zenfolio.com
  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. Cheryl Burgess.

Contact Us

BEMS Office

PH: 904-827-2739

Health Care Center

PH: 904-827-2410

VP: 904-201-3910


PH: 800-992-8747

Kramer Hall (Elementary Dorm)

PH: 904-827-2736

Cary White Complex (Middle School Dorm)

PH: 904-827-2851

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