Since 2018, Perkins has supported the Escuela ARENA within the province of Cordoba, Argentina. The school is a model program which serves both primary and secondary-aged students with a total of 36 kids enrolled in 2022.
The coordinator for the school’s secondary level received her training from Perkins International Academy, which enables students to learn communication and preparation for adult life through person-centered planning. Students and their families, like the Ochoa Leyva family, find this information extremely helpful. With a better understanding of visual impairment and multiple, complex disabilities, they are able to do what all parents want to do with their children: plan activities and trips.
As a child, Lucia Ochoa Levya, appeared to be developing like the other children her age until her parents noticed she’d experience brief, sudden lapses of consciousness. Realized as absence seizures, Lucia’s parents, Oscar and Sara, continued taking her to the neurologist.
The doctor prescribed medication to tame Lucia’s epilepsy, but, after several follow-ups, noticed that her condition persisted despite treatment. This, and subsequent appointments to different specialists, led to Lucia’s diagnosis of tuberous sclerosis, a rare genetic disorder that causes benign tumors to develop in many parts of the body.
Oscar and Sara enrolled Lucia in a regular local primary school, where she attended part-time during the week with a support teacher and on Friday, she attended an art workshop. When she graduated primary school, Lucia took a gap year before entering secondary level. Oscar and Sara were nervous about sending Lucia to a special education school until they found Escuela ARENA.
For many high school seniors, the most memorable moments are the trips. In Cordoba, Argentina many seniors make the trek to Bariloche in the Rio Negro province. Going by bus can take more than 17 hours, yet it’s not the length of the trip that exhausts travelers but the zigzagging through the high Andes mountains.
Still, the trip is a right of passage for teens, and with Escuela ARENA’s assistance, parents felt they could unlock this opportunity for their children and the future classes to come. Parents within Lucia’s grade began coordinating with the school and made T-shirts and jackets with the year of the graduating class on them. They even invited the two previous graduating classes 2020 and 2021.
When some parents feared they wouldn’t be able to send their kids, the parent group banded together to raise funds by organizing raffles and bingo tournaments. Thankfully, this partnership between Escuela ARENA and the parents has already provided enough funds for roundtrip airfare, which would cut the travel time to two hours.
Now, with less than two months away, the parents are finalizing the last details and are growing more excited by the day.
Preparation for adult life is a complex process for families and students, often because the future is uncertain and because leaving school means their kids will have to face the world. Social experiences that are truly inclusive are opportunities that eliminate barriers for young people with disabilities.
Perkins supports the efforts of Oscar, Sara, Lucia, and all of the families at Escuela ARENA who are showing the world what children with disabilities can do, not what they can’t.