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California School for the Blind Pioneers Program

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The Middle School Preparation Program at the California School for the Blind is a hit with parents, educators, and students. The program prepares students who are blind to make a smooth transition into middle school -- and into the real world beyond. Included: Links to online resources!


The California School for the Blind

The California School for the Blind started in 1865. Originally located in San Francisco, the school moved to Fremont about 20 years ago. The state-operated residential school provides comprehensive educational services for California students up to age 21 who are visually impaired, deaf-blind, and visually impaired and multi-handicapped.

To achieve its goals, the school provides a program that instructs students in daily-living skills and Braille reading and writing and trains students to use assistive technology. Students are offered programs in vocational education as well as traditional academics. After school, students have the opportunity socialize, participate in activities such as bowling and swimming, and do homework.

Lucky Touch Fortune Cookie Company
One of the school's showcase programs is the Lucky Touch Fortune Cookie Company. This student-run company offers an opportunity for CSB students to learn what running a business involves. Students stuff pre-made cookies with Braille or large-print fortunes and sell three cookies for $1. Buyers can order cookies with customized fortunes for holidays and special occasions. For more information about the Lucky Touch Fortune Cookie Company, contact Judith Lesner at 510-794-3800 ext. 300.

The leap from elementary school to middle school can be traumatic for any student. Imagine what the transition is like for blind kids! Coping with a new school and new teachers, moving between classes several times or more each day, opening lockers ... All of those things, part of the normal middle school day, are daunting for blind students.

Dr. Sharon Sachs, assistant superintendent at the California School for the Blind at Fremont (CSB), saw a need for a program to help students with special needs make that transition from elementary school to middle school. So did her colleagues in school districts around the Bay Area. Theresa Postello was one of those colleagues, and she talked with Sachs about it.

HELPING CASEY MAKE THE TRANSITION

Postello, who teaches visually impaired students for the San Mateo (California) Office of Education, was working with a student named Casey. Casey, a visually impaired fifth grader who used Braille, wasn't ready for middle school, Postello told Education World.

"I talked with Sharon [Sachs] about some kind of transitioning program for fifth- and sixth-grade elementary school students such as Casey. She called me with the idea of putting together a program for students going into middle school," said Postello.

Sachs created a proposal. Teachers at CSB got on board. With no outside funding, the Middle School Preparation Program began last year with five students. Casey was one of them.

The Middle School Preparation Program stresses life skills as well as academics. Teachers follow an expanded core curriculum that includes Braille, special living skills, and assistive technologies, Sachs told Education World. Teachers work one-on-one with the students, zeroing in on the skills those students need to improve.

Students learn life skills that will help them live independently as they grow older, such as how to travel independently, make phone calls on pay phones, go shopping and pay for items, eat out in restaurants, and ride buses.

Teachers also work with students on developing necessary study skills, such as

  • developing organizational and note-taking skills, such as organizing folders, outlining, and even packing for trips;
  • navigating the Internet for research -- the students use talking computers;
  • exploring career options;
  • using assistive technologies such as Braille note-takers, which they will use for taking notes in middle school classes.

Casey and another student involved in the program last year both made successful transitions to middle school, Sachs said.

This year, seven students are enrolled in the program. "We try to find strategies that work for the students," explained Sachs. "This year we've added a mainstream component. Students go to a local middle school to take one or two classes.

"We're really focusing on disability-specific skills," added Sachs. "Students in the program might not go on to middle school in one year."


DOES THE PROGRAM WORK?

Armand Bolino's daughter, Anna, is in the Middle School Preparation Program at CSB. This is her second year. Anna lives on campus during the week and spends the weekends at home with her family.

"Her progress in one year is equal to her progress over the last three years," Bolino said. "Her Braille skills skyrocketed.

"This program is a breath of fresh air. It's helped her self-esteem unbelievably," Bolino continued. "She used to require all kinds of help with her schoolwork, but now she can do almost all of it by herself. It's made a huge difference in her life."

Theresa Postello saw a huge difference in Casey after her year at CSB. "Her mobility skills were honed. It helped her self-confidence and increased her technology skills," Postello told Education World.

Sachs thinks the Middle School Preparation Program could be a model for the rest of the country. It's making a difference in the lives of California students, and it's a concept that could easily spread and help blind students everywhere, she said.


ONLINE LINKS AND RESOURCES

Click through the following resources to learn more about educating students who are blind.


MORE WEB PAGES FROM SCHOOLS FOR THE BLIND



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