A clear vision for blind students

Issue: Volume 93, Number 17

Posted: 22 September 2014
Reference #: 1H9csa

The Ministry of Education recently launched a new book for parents called The Vision Book – My Child, Our Journey as part of its ongoing commitment to blind, deafblind, and low vision students.

The Ministry wrote The Vision Book with input from Health, Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ (BLENNZ) and the Blind Foundation.

It starts by looking at a child in their early years, at the time of diagnosis, and covers their experience at school and into early adulthood.

The Vision Book also features stories from people who have parented or supported a blind or low vision child or have lived with a vision impairment themselves.

It introduces readers to BLENNZ – the country’s school for children and young people who are blind, deafblind or have low vision – the Expanded Core Curriculum and specialist teachers known as Resource Teachers: Vision (RTV).

Ministry senior adviser and project manager Carin Sundstedt oversaw the book’s development. She says education is a central theme of the book, but it also weaves in information about parent support and health and disability services.

The book was inspired by The Family Book – an introduction for the families and whānau of children diagnosed with a hearing loss and is part of a suite of resources aimed to support parents and families.

“Launching the book at BLENNZ in Auckland provided us with an opportunity to let people know the book is out there, and to reiterate the message to parents that there are many people and organisations available to support you,” says Carin.

Education stories from The Vision Book

Six real-life stories have been included in The Vision Book as a way to give readers encouragement and reassurance and to provide insight into what people in the education system can do to support children and young people who are blind, deafblind, or have low vision. Here are two of those stories:

Resource teachers – the key to settling in well at school

Heading off to intermediate school has been a big deal for 11-year-old Boston Beattie and his mum, Sharon.

Boston, who was born 26 weeks premature with hydrocephalus (or water on the brain), is blind.

He started intermediate school this year, after several months of transition planning led by Boston’s RTVs, Judy Fox and Cathy West.

Sharon is delighted, and a teeny bit relieved, to report that Boston is settling in well.

“I felt a bit nervous about it. He’d done so well at primary school thanks to wonderful teachers, his RTV at the time, and a lovely teacher’s aide. His primary school had worked so hard on developing a really supportive culture.

“I worried that intermediate would be different. Kids can be a bit hard on one another as they get older. We’ve all experienced that,” says Sharon.

But so far, so good, she says.

“In fact, I’ve noticed a huge growth in Boston’s confidence. I’m putting it down to having an awesome teacher and the preparation work Judy and Cathy have done. He’s become more open in his talk. He’s up earlier and his independence has grown.

“I’m actually thinking he might like to spend a bit more time up in Auckland in the Homai centre with BLENNZ to experience life away from home.”

Sharon, who is mum to six kids, says parenting Boston is more hands on and takes more planning compared with the others. That’s why Boston’s RTVs over the years have been an invaluable support.

“We’ve both [Boston and I] built up some very good relationships with Boston’s RTVs. They are relationships that will be with us forever. Each of them has offered us a lot. With Boston, they’ve made him persist with learning his braille – he’s doing well with it now. But he tires easily and needs a lot of encouragement.

“They’ve got him involved in Homai immersion courses to develop his daily living skills, and they have helped him get to know the layout of his new school before he started.

“With Boston’s teachers, Judy and Cathy make sure they have the large-print and braille materials he needs and that his technology is working as it should.”

Sharon says Boston’s RTVs give her confidence that Boston will do the best he can at school.

“My advice to parents is to spend time with your child’s RTV. Trust they will do their best for your child. Develop a good relationship with them. You’ll need it. I take my cues from Judy and Cathy all the time. I ask them heaps of questions and I tell them my honest opinions.

“They’ve been a huge source of strength for me, too. They help me stick with things and remind me to notice the positives.
“Sometimes it’s a smile on Boston’s face that’s my reward. Other times it’s the bigger stuff like maths achievement. Both are lovely to see.”

Secondary school gets it right for Renee

For Letitia Patete, all it took was one meeting at Wellington Girls’ College and she was convinced her 14-year-old daughter Renee would love it there.

“I’d heard lots of good things about the school, but I did need to check it out and see for myself.

“I was afraid Renee wouldn’t be accepted; that it would be much harder for her at secondary school.

“But after that first meeting, I felt reassured. The principal was incredibly welcoming. She was excited to have Renee enrol. I could see the teachers were passionate. I could see they cared about the kids in their classes.”

Renee is an exceptionally gifted student who’s been blind since birth.

She excels at a wide range of subjects, including maths, science, English, languages, and music.

By three, she’d learnt braille. At six, she was one of the youngest people ever to master a BrailleNote (a braille word processor).

“She’s got this incredible memory and ability to retain information. She just loves to learn. But it’s hard work keeping up with her and making sure she has everything she needs to be successful,” says Letitia.

That’s why Letitia and Renee’s RTV started planning for Renee’s transition in term two of Renee’s last year at primary school.

They started by visiting the school and meeting the learning support team. By term three, they began to pick Renee’s subjects and order her braille textbooks. In term four, there were regular visits to the school to get Renee used to the layout and comfortable with her teachers.

“The well-planned transition made all the difference,” says Letitia. “But I have to say, the support didn’t stop there.”
Right now, Renee’s teachers are planning for NCEA to make sure Renee has the braille resources she needs and the assessment process is well organised.

The principal recently re-jigged the timetable to foster a fledgling friendship that’s developed between Renee and another student in her German class.

This term, the girls were encouraged to do a joint presentation to the school assembly on the importance of being polite and conscientious towards one another.

“Renee’s friend had noticed that Renee was finding it hard to get in and out of doorways after class, with 1300 girls rushing from place to place.

“So their teachers encouraged them to talk to assembly about the importance of looking out for each other and being courteous. Renee wasn’t singled out for attention. It was a message for everyone. That’s the way they do things.”

Letitia believes Wellington Girls’ College, with support from Renee’s RTV, is doing a great job of helping Renee to succeed academically, as well as setting her on the path to a happy, independent, adult life.

“Adolescence doesn’t come without its challenges – and there tends to be even more for kids with disabilities. But I’ve noticed Renee becoming happier and happier at secondary school, and I’m over the moon.

“Last weekend she and her new friend jumped on a bus and spent five hours in town like a couple of regular teenagers. It was lovely to see her off and venturing into the world.

“She was buzzed for days. And to be honest, so was I.” 

A teacher’s guide to ‘who’s who’ in the vision sector

BLENNZ: BLENNZ is New Zealand’s school for children who are blind, deafblind, or who have low vision. Every child with a diagnosed visual impairment who meets BLENNZ criteria can enrol in whatever school he or she chooses and can be enrolled with BLENNZ at the same time.

BLENNZ teachers (or RTVs): Qualified teachers who provide general advice, teaching, and development support, as well as overall service coordination.

The Expanded Core Curriculum: The Expanded Core Curriculum is a teaching framework that can be integrated into the regular classroom and into a child’s life outside the classroom with help from an RTV. It covers seven key learning areas – communication, sensory skill development, physical abilities, orientation and mobility, social skills, living skills, and technology.

Blind Foundation: Blind Foundation staff work in teams alongside BLENNZ RTVs and agencies like the Ministries of Health and Education. The Foundation offers a wide range of services, including a free, nationwide counselling service for children and their families and a programme especially for teens that teaches daily living and pre-employment skills.

Ministry of Health: The Ministry of Health also provides a range of services – e.g. care and respite services for parents and carers and developmental support for children through child development teams within district health boards. In some cases, free and subsidised vision and hearing equipment is available through the Ministry’s Equipment and Modification Services.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 8:53 am, 22 September 2014

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