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Deltona Lakes Elementary School fifth-grader Nico Baroni has been blind since he was 6 months old.
But, as he told several classes Oct. 21, “I really like being blind.”
The school was celebrating a belated White Cane Day, a national celebration every Oct. 15 in honor of the blind and visually impaired.
Deltona Lakes Elementary is the only hub for visually impaired students on the west side of Volusia County — this year, four of their students are like Nico. His parents live in DeLand.
Nico, who is 10-and-a-half years old, spent the day visiting 10 different classrooms to speak to students about his life, a tradition he has done since he was a kindergarten student.
“This is a really great day for me,” he told a group of second graders.
Many of the students know him already as their local weatherman on the school-produced daily news, the Eagle Nest News.
Wearing his black sunglasses and a pink tie, and reading from Braille, Nico was on their monitors this morning, informing them that the low temperature was 67, and to expect partly cloudy skies in the evening.
On White Cane Day, he was even more of a celebrity and was greeted by choruses of hellos in every room.
But, as he told them, whenever they say hi, could they please also give their names?
“For example, you could say ‘Hi, Nico. This is Mrs. Fazio,’” Nico told the classes, referring to Vision Paraprofessional Susan Fazio. Fazio assists Nico in everything Braille, including giving and grading homework.
Nico was a top scorer in regional meets for the Braille Challenge, an academic competition held every year by the Braille Institute. He was one of 50 finalists who traveled to California to compete this year.
In most of his classroom visits, he read from Braille a White Cane Day poem or a short story.
He gave the students some basic do’s and don’ts: Say your name, don’t call his cane a stick, and please don’t step over the cane or try to grab it.
“Almost everybody here has sight — I use the cane. It’s not a toy; it’s a tool,” Nico explained.
“How do you eat?” one kindergartner asked.
“I’m normal. I eat with my hands, or with a fork. That’s.. kind of an absurd question,” he laughed.
“How do you run?” a second-grader asked.
“That’s a great question. The school just got a guide rope which I am very excited about,” Nico replied.
A guide rope was installed in the PE area so that Nico can clip a metal coupling device on himself and run, he explained.
This is Nico’s last year at Deltona Lakes Elementary. Because there is no middle school on the west side for vision and mobility, his parents are looking at middle schools in DeLand.
“This is my last cane day here,” Nico told one class. “Everyone has been so emotional.”
“We’ll keep the tradition going,” Fazio reassured.