Artists are known for seeing the world differently.
For Friendly Hills Middle School 7th grader Chloe Webster, that’s just part of life.
She started drawing in her highchair, then continued to explore art in a Montessori school and art classes.
Now she draws to illustrate the stories she writes, and her detailed portrayals of people and scenes often crop up on the white boards around school.
That might sound like the story of any number of imaginative young people, except for one thing—Chloe is considered legally blind by doctors.
Because of her severe near-sightedness, Chloe uses a closed-captioned TV—a camera that projects magnified images—to see her classroom white boards. She spends time in study hall instead of gym class.
Yet up close, she says her sight does not affect whether she can see the subtle details in her pen drawings—wisps of hair, a feather on Cupid’s arrow.
“I just like drawing in detail, cramming everything in, because I like drawing realistically, I don’t know why,” said Chloe.
Her parents started her off with thicker markers because she could see those better, but Chloe has gravitated toward pen and colored pencil because of the precise lines she can make.
“I think most of the teachers don’t really understand her vision because she functions so beautifully,” said Chloe’s mother, Ann Webster. “She gets to know a room and walks around, and she moves just fine, but if you’re across a room she has no idea who you are.”
Nevertheless, creativity and exploration are encouraged in the Webster home. Chloe’s twin sister, Madeleine, will be on the Sibley dance team as an eighth grader, and the family, including Chloe, explore the local bike trails together.
Chloe said she would like to write and travel when she grows up, and is not interested in a desk job.
She gravitates toward fantasy fiction, though she said she’s getting into anime, known for its vibrant pen illustrations.
“Sometimes she’ll just draw stories,” said Ann. “She’ll bring me thirty pages of drawings that she’s done really fast, pen drawings, and I can turn the pages and see what’s happening. Usually someone’s getting kidnapped by pirates. It’s always adventure. She’s really good at drawing action.”
For the district, ensuring that students like Chloe can be successful in a mainstream classroom is key.
“For someone that is visually impaired it might be larger screens when we’re using technology, it might be audio tapes, it might be magnifying assisted technology devices to help support the learning environment,” said Marcy Doud, director of special programs in District 197.
The goal is to keep students like Chloe in a normal setting, doing extraordinary things, of course, as much as possible.
“The kind of fun and creative part that we do is look at how can we make that happen,“ said Doud.
Chloe also receives support from the staff. Recently, Friendly Hills teacher Anne Barnes commissioned Chloe to paint a tree mural on her classroom wall. Barnes will hang artwork from the branches like leaves.
Principal Joni Hagebock is one of Chloe's biggest supporters, and asked her to draw the falcon logo that will be on next year’s school planner.
“We see Chloe sitting in the cafeteria, and everyone’s eating, and there’s chaos all around her, and she’s sitting there drawing,” said Hagebock.