Everywhere you looked in the Hilton Building in mid-August, there was a flurry of activity. Students squeezed lemons for fresh lemonade, took determined swings during mini-golf and flattened colorful cupcake wrappers to create ice cream art.
But this wasn’t just fun and games – this was Perkins School for the Blind’s first Literacy Activity Program, held during summer break.
“We want to keep kids interested in books and interested in learning,” said Deafblind Program Educational Director Martha Majors, who noted that parents have asked for a program like this for many years.
It was made possible thanks to a grant from the Constance O. Putnam Foundation, named in honor of a former schoolteacher with a passion for literacy. Through its generous support, Majors and Deafblind Program teacher Sara Espanet were able to design a creative curriculum and hire teachers, teaching assistants, nurses and coordinators to implement it.
About 15 students from the Lower School, Deafblind Program and Secondary Program all enjoyed story-based activities during the week-long program. Each morning started with a summery tale from Unique Learning System, designed to be interactive for students with disabilities.
“Some students follow through pictures, some students read braille, some use tactile symbols,” said Majors. “In our world, that’s all literacy.”
Lower School student Madilyn confidently read aloud a braille version of Wednesday’s story, titled “A Very Hot Summer Day,” to a room full of fellow students.
As she reached the last page, her classmates applauded and she beamed. “How good of a job did I do?” she asked proudly. “You did great!” came a response from across the room.
Once everyone had read the story, the students broke into four groups to do cooking, sports, music and more – all related to what they’d just learned. In addition to reinforcing literacy skills, they practiced social skills as they took turns reading; fine motor skills as they glued and decorated art projects; and recreational skills as they did yoga and played soccer and baseball.
“It’s a good opportunity for kids to participate in activities they might not otherwise do over the summer,” said Espanet, who organized the day-to-day schedule.
During the school year, students attend classes and activities with just their peers. But during the summer program, students got a chance to mingle and meet new friends.
“It’s fun for kids to interact with all different staff and students,” said Espanet.
Both she and Majors were thrilled by feedback they received from both students and their parents as the program progressed.
“The families are so excited,” said Majors. “A lot of these activities can carry over when they go home. We packed a lot into just one week.”