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Camille Winfield, of Hercules High School, waits for children to give feedback on their writing during the Wild About Writing class taught by Sarah Creeley at Hercules Public Library in Hercules, Calif., on Wednesday, July 24, 2013. Winfield, who is blind, received a Contra Costa Regional Occupational award earlier this month for her work in the Careers in Teaching Program, which placed her in a third grade classroom at Hanna Ranch Elementary in Hercules. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

HERCULES -- Although Camille Winfield is blind, she sees good in everyone she meets, especially children.

The 19-year-old who graduated from Hercules High School in June inspires both children and adults with her upbeat attitude, infectious smile, playful sense of humor, witty intelligence and sweet voice, which often bursts into lovely, impromptu melodies.

"I just love connecting with the children," Winfield said of her time spent helping third-graders this year as part of a Careers in Education program. "Each of them had their own personalities, and they were so much fun. They helped me because they made me want to go to school. And they helped me to build my leadership skills."

Camille Winfield, of Hercules High School, listens to Marcos Chavez, 9, as she waits for giving feedback on his writing during the Wild About Writing class
Camille Winfield, of Hercules High School, listens to Marcos Chavez, 9, as she waits for giving feedback on his writing during the Wild About Writing class taught by Sarah Creeley at Hercules Public Library in Hercules, Calif., on Wednesday, July 24, 2013. Winfield, who is blind, received a Contra Costa Regional Occupational award earlier this month for her work in the Careers in Teaching Program, which placed her in a third grade classroom at Hanna Ranch Elementary in Hercules. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Winfield decided she wanted to become a child psychologist after working as a Teacher Cadet in a third-grade classroom at Hanna Ranch Elementary in Hercules. The program was offered by the Contra Costa County Office of Education and West Contra Costa school district, and Winfield was the lone Hercules student to earn a Regional Occupational Program award.

She was selected for helping students hone their reading and writing skills by listening to them read what they wrote, then asking questions and offering suggestions for improvement.

Teacher Sarah Creeley valued the teen's help so much that she asked Winfield to assist with a three-day summer writing class at the Hercules Library last week.


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One by one, children would sit next to Winfield after they had finished writing sentences. One boy wrote about how much he enjoyed playing with his younger brother. Winfield asked him why he liked his brother and encouraged the youngster to describe his brother's personality.

Connecting with kids

Winfield bonded so well with the children that one boy even invited her to his end-of-the-year swimming party, and several wrote letters to this newspaper expressing their fondness for her.

"I have met no one nicer than Camille," wrote Anthony. "I love Camille because I can let my feeling out to her. Camille matters to me. Camille is my friend."

Dominic said he appreciated the book that Winfield wrote in Braille and shared with the class.

"She is really smart and she can tell us stories with Braille," he wrote. "She did a 'trust walk' with us and it was fun! She sang with us a lot when she came."

When Creeley explained to students why reading is important, Winfield interjected her own ideas.

"When you can't see, you can imagine it in your mind," Winfield said. "To me, books are like a movie in my mind."

Creeley said Winfield has had a profound impact on her students.

"Camille is so amazing," Creeley said.

"She did presentations to the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders about what (it) is was like to be blind and how she keeps her chin up, and it was very inspiring."

Mikal McKenzie, 8, who was in both of Creeley's classes, said Winfield was his favorite Teacher Cadet. "When I felt down about missing recess because I didn't do my work, she said, 'Look on the bright side: You still have me!'"

Winfield's mother, Eva Newton, said her daughter was blessed with good teachers who worked her hard when she was growing up in Texas because they wanted her to succeed in school and in life.

"She had a teacher that made her learn how to read Braille, and she stayed on her and stayed on her until the point where Camille loves to read," Newton said. "When she got to middle school and high school, she was out-reading all the children who were blind, and she was helping them."

Family and faith

Newton raised Winfield and her older brother Jeremy as a single mother, and the family relocated to California in 2010. Winfield's father died in a trucking accident in 2011, when she was 17.

Winfield and her family share a strong faith in God, whom they credit for giving her gifts, such as the ability to sing well and make people laugh. The family sings regularly at the New Gethsemane Church of God in Christ in Richmond, and they don't question the reason Winfield was born blind.

"I don't know the reason, but I do know that God is going to use me for his glory," Winfield said. "I believe that God will heal me when he wants me to see."

Newton said doctors were never able to determine the cause of Winfield's blindness, which they attribute to microphthalmia, a developmental disorder of the eye whose name means "small eyes." Winfield also had a hole in her diaphragm and underwent surgery four days after birth, then recovered in the hospital for a month before her mother took her home.

When Winfield was about 6 months old, Newton said she found resources such as Lighthouse for the Blind and other agencies that provided rehabilitation services for her daughter. Now that Winfield has graduated, she is preparing to move into the Orientation Center for the Blind in Albany, where she will learn to cook and do other things for herself before she pursues her college education.

But before starting this next phase of life, Winfield savored her time with the elementary students in Creeley's class.

"The kids show you so much love and compassion, and they give you hugs every day, and it's just really touching," she said. "And they ask you for advice. They're so pure and innocent. They love you for who you are, and it's just so amazing."

Contact Theresa Harrington at 925-945-4764. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa and IBAbuzz.com/onassignment.

Camille winfield
Age: 19
Hometown: Richmond
Milestone: Hercules High School winner of the Contra Costa County Regional Occupational Program award for her work as a Teacher Cadet in the West Contra Costa school district's Careers in Education program at Hanna Ranch Elementary in Hercules.
Quote: "Being blind is not something that is really terrible," she tells students. "We are just like normal people. And, if we can do it, they can do it."
To see Winfield talking about her experiences as a Teacher Cadet, go to www.contracostatimes.com/education. More information about the Teacher Cadet program in the West Contra Costa school districtcan be found in the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.