CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- John Sandy walks between the tables of his classroom, talking to the children about technique and the art of blending colors. As he moves between the stations he speaks gently to the children and helps guide them through the process. He pauses at one table and picks up a student's work, holding it only inches from his face as he examines it closely. Sandy is legally blind.
Sandy, 59, is a Kanawha County elementary art teacher, which means, like all the other elementary art teachers, he travels daily to a different school, a total of five schools a week. Because of his poor eyesight, he can't drive a car. But that doesn't slow him down.
Born with visual problems, Sandy struggled through the school system and the cruelty of other children. He credits his mother's strength and his faith for instilling in him a strong moral compass and work ethic.
Sandy's eyesight is degenerative and has gotten progressively worse over the years.
In 1969 at the age of 15, his retina detached for the first time. (He would suffer from two more retina detachments throughout his life.) Although his mother didn't tell him at the time, she later shared with him the doctors' prognosis: He would be blind by 40.
In spite of his challenges, Sandy said he was always drawn to art. From a young age he would sketch portraits of family members.
"When I graduated [from Nitro High School], my guidance counselor suggested a school for the blind. I didn't want to do that, so I prayed about it and I ended up going to college at Anderson University in Indiana. I earned my BA in art there. I came home and went to State where I got my BS in Education K-12."
After graduation Sandy began substitute teaching. He moved from job to job until he landed a year-long substitute job. After that year he decided teaching wasn't for him.
He made a career change to radio. With a smooth baritone voice and an easy, friendly manner, Sandy's faith made him a great fit at the former local Christian radio station Praise 101. Sandy was a DJ at the station for 13 years when the radio station went under. The new owners offered Sandy a position, but he said working for a secular station was not an option for him.
Sandy thanked the new owners and found himself, once again, on the job market, so he returned to substitute teaching.
On his return to the school system he reconnected with Fonda Lockhart, the arts supervisor of Kanawha County Schools. Lockhart had been a teacher during Sandy's single year of substituting and remembered his dedication to his students.
During that year Sandy realized his art department was bare. He began fundraising to furnish the students with art supplies. Sandy recalled that Lockhart asked, "Why are you doing that?"
He said he replied, "It just seems like the right thing to do."