Punky and I had the wonderful opportunity this week to take a tour with our homeschooling group of our state’s School for the Blind. It was more than wonderful; it was a privilege. The school has approximately 120 students ranging from age four to eighteen, 60% of whom are residential students, as they come from all over the state. Some of the students are legally blind, others visually impaired, and others completely blind. Some of the students have other disabilities along with their blindness, while others are academically proficient and are at the school mostly for their need to learn life skills.
The school sits on 14 or so acres and has many wonderful amenities. There is a very large Greenhouse and the students grow an assortment of plants including Poinsettias which are utilized by the State’s government buildings during the holiday season. The school has a very large gymnasium that includes a basketball court and a pool. They do a variety of activities in that pool – including learning to kayak! The local competitive swim team utilizes the school’s pool for swim practices and in return, the team provides life guards for the students at the school during the course of the week. The students at the school have many opportunities to be involved in clubs and activities, just as one would find in other public schools. You name it and they can do it – just with modifications. It was fascinating to see and learn about those modifications. The main sport that’s played is Goal Ball - imagine European Soccer crossed with bowling (sort of), but with bells in the balls. Hearing, obviously, is a very developed sense for these children.
The school has a sensory garden. A variety of plants and flowers are in the garden, each with a different smell or texture. Sprinkled throughout the garden are the community signs we would see driving through any town. Stop signs, street signs, cross walk, etc are in this garden for the students, who have some sight, to be able to learn to recognize them in a safe environment. We saw Braille textbooks that require 17 volumes to cover the same material found in a standard school textbook as well as other devices that the students use to access, read, or hear information. There were students with sight guides, canes, or glasses and other items we already associate with blindness. The math classroom had talking calculators and the students work with abacuses in the same way sighted students use scrap paper for doing their figuring.
Our home school kids had the chance to be blindfolded (more like black goggled) and then eat a snack and clean their area. They were also taught, by the blind school students, how to use the embossing machine to create their individual names in Braille. Totally cool! The most fascinating part of the tour though was the students themselves. These children were so friendly, welcoming, funny, bright, and utterly delightful. So many of them would walk right up to our children and ask, “What’s your name? What grade are you in? I’m Austin and I’m in the 6h grade.” They would chat, joke, and laugh with us in a manner that fully demonstrated their joy at living. They were excited to have our kids join them in the cafeteria for lunch and spent the entire lunch hour chatting and joking with our kids as if they were already fast friends. It was a blessing to meet these kids and spend a few hours in their world.
I tried to imagine how children at a regular public school would react to having a bunch of homeschooler’s invade their classroom for a day and to be honest, I couldn’t imagine the most friendly of welcomes. I wondered how these beautiful, bright, blind children would be treated at regular public school and had a very hard time imagining they would have received even 1/10th of the welcome or friendliness that they bestowed upon us. I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that these children, who must conquer more obstacles in one single day than other children will have to conquer in a lifetime, could see something that so many sighted folks just can’t (or won’t): the beauty of the world not visible to the naked eye and the joy of simply being alive. Both Punky and I left the School for the Blind able to see a little better and that is the greatest lesson we learned.
“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”
~ Mari B.