Their journeys began on five different continents. After arriving at Perkins School for the Blind in September, members of the Educational Leadership Program (ELP) Class of 2015 spent nine months living and learning together.
The group experienced challenges along the way – including cultural hurdles, busy schedules and a fierce New England winter. But they emerged a tight-knit unit, inspired by their Perkins experience and bonded by their passion for educating children with blindness, visual impairment and multiple disabilities.
On May 21, the ELP Class of 2015 gathered together one last time for a commencement ceremony marking the end of their Perkins journey. Nine ELP graduates received diplomas inside historic Dwight Hall. Four other classmates completed a six-month version of the program in February.
This year’s graduates hailed from 12 countries – Antigua, Armenia, Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico, Serbia, Tanzania and Uganda. At Perkins, they all received expert instruction, hands-on teaching experience and leadership training in blindness education.
Class speaker Charlotte Poku of Ghana thanked Perkins staffers who made the Class of 2015 “feel comfortable in a foreign land” while sharing their knowledge and experience.
“We value your wonderful generosity for opening the doors of your programs to us to observe, practice and participate in all your activities,” said Poku, who works as head of the deafblind unit at the Ashanti School for the Deaf in south Ghana.
Poku said she was confident her fellow graduates would stay in touch after they returned home and began to use their newly acquired knowledge in local schools, organizations and government agencies.
“The bonds we developed during our stay at Perkins are some of the deepest many of us have known,” she said. “It is without a doubt in my mind that we will continue to hear a lot from each other over the next few decades.”
In his commencement remarks, Perkins President and CEO Dave Power acknowledged the program’s rich history. The roots of the ELP date back to Perkins’ Teacher Training Program, which was founded in 1920 and began accepting international educators one year later.
“This is a very special club that goes back almost 100 years,” said Power. “These graduates become a part of a very powerful network that connects the best teachers and ideas.”
ELP Coordinator Marianne Riggio commended the graduates for their dedication to the field of blindness education.
“Becoming an ELP is a daring adventure,” she said. “People leave their homes and their families…to come for the adventure and the knowledge they hope to gain to build better services for people who are blind and deafblind in their home countries. But this group had the resolve. They made the most of every day they had at Perkins.”