To watch Filer High School music teacher Leah Pentland move around her classroom, you wouldn’t guess that she is legally blind. She moves with the confidence, grace and assurance of someone who does not let her impairment get in the way of life. “I can do pretty much anything, except drive a car or do brain surgery,” the petite young woman declares with a laugh. With a smile always present, it’s hard not to become infected with Leah’s zest for life.
Being in Leah’s presence and seeing the quote she has written on her whiteboard, “I will act as though I make a difference”, it’s easy to see the power of positivity at work.
Leah was born visually impaired. She says her love of music came to her a little late in childhood, but once it did, it didn’t take long for her to be hooked. After a friend encouraged her to join band, Leah spent a summer teaching herself how to play the clarinet. And the rest, as they say, is history.
While attending Boise State University as a clarinet performance major, Leah got the idea to become a music teacher after aiding a band teacher. “Since I can’t see, I figured I may as well capitalize on my other senses” she says. After graduation, she landed a teaching position in Hansen, Idaho. The bubbly, energetic, and charismatic Emmett native later moved to Filer High School, where she teaches 9th through 12th grade choirs, band and music fundamentals. She also travels to Filer Middle School on her bicycle to teach a 7th grade music exploratory course.
One of Leah’s biggest challenges early in her teaching career was being able to read her computer screen. That’s when the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired stepped in. Leah’s vocational rehabilitation coordinator, Linda Upton, worked with the school to get Leah a computer with Zoom Text technology, enabling her to enlarge anything on her computer screen to the point where she can utilize the vision she does have. Seemingly little things like this are often what get in the way of visually impaired people finding or keeping a job, according to Linda. While the commission gets a lot of referrals from eye doctors, Linda hopes to spread the word and educate people about the services that are available in Idaho.
Leah enjoys forming relationships with her students, and says the most rewarding part of her job is when she watches them light up when they “get it, when they have that aha moment.” Leah says that while her impairment certainly makes things like transportation difficult, she truly believes that you can do anything you want if you have the right attitude.
“Everyone has challenges. Life is all about choice. If you want to do something bad enough, you will do it.” The young educator is not quite finished making her mark on Southern Idaho yet. When asked about what the future holds, she smiles and with an infectious enthusiasm says, “I want to get my doctorate, I want to go to Europe, and I want to get my Masters and teach at the college level. That’s my bucket list!”
The Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually impaired works hard every day to ensure that blindness does not rob an Idahoan of life’s simple pleasures. For more information on resources available to blind and visually impaired Idahoans, visit www.icbvi.idaho.gov or call 208-736-2140.