Rachael Noyes was hired by Perkins in 1982 as a Childcare Worker (CCW) in the Deafblind Department. She graduated from Perkins Teacher Training Program in 1984 and became a crafts teacher in Secondary three years later. Noyes also taught Home and Personal Management skills. She retired in 2022, forty years after first coming to Perkins. Photographed in front of the Howe Building on Perkins campus, Noyes, a white woman who has brown hair with blonde highlights worn in a ponytail, smiles. She is wearing a blue and purple striped top over a white shirt. The Howe building sign is located behind her.
This interview was conducted for the Perkins School for the Blind on August 10, 2022, by Jen Hale.
This oral history transcript may be quoted if cited. A preferred citation is provided. The interview may not be published in full except with the permission of the Perkins School for the Blind. For permission please contact [email protected].
Noyes, Rachael. “Rachael Noyes oral history interview conducted by Jen Hale,” 2022-08-10, Perkins Archives Oral History Project, AG176-2022-08, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.
Jen Hale: Today is August 10, 2022. This is Jen Hale. I’m here with Rachael Noyes, a former teacher in the secondary school. We are conducting this interview virtually on Google because of COVID-19 restrictions. Rachael, are you OK with me recording this conversation?
Rachael Noyes: Yes, I am.
Hale: Great. You recently retired. What year did you come to Perkins, and what was your role?
Noyes: I started at Perkins in 1982. And my first job was a CCW. And back then, we were known as childcare workers.
Hale: Can you elaborate on some of your duties and responsibilities in that role?
Noyes: I had two shifts that I would work, either the 7 to 3 shift or the 3 to 10. If I worked the 7 to 3 shift, my responsibilities were with one student the whole time. I would wake that student up, have breakfast with the student, attend all day classes with the student, have lunch.
And at 3:00, my day– his school day– was done. And if I worked the 3 to 10 shift, I would pick the student up in the classroom, do after-school fun activities, have dinner, homework, showering routine, and then have the student be in bed by his bedtime.
Hale: What brought you to the Deafblind Department and to Perkins?
Noyes: It was the summer of 1982. I was reading the Boston Globe, which is the big Sunday newspaper in Boston. And back then, that’s how we found jobs was through the Want Ads.
And I opened up the paper, and there was a big picture of the Perkins Tower. Caught my eye. It said, lots of positions open, but child care worker positions. Free room and board.
And being brought up in Southern Vermont, I thought what could be better? Minutes from Boston, free room and board. So I went down to have an interview, and I got a job that day.
Hale: What was it like working in the Deafblind Department?
Noyes: It was my first job at Perkins. And right off, I knew I would love Perkins. The atmosphere of it, my responsibilities, I thought were very common, sensible.
The people I worked with, the people I worked with, we became a very tight-knit group. We did a lot of things together on the weekends. We helped each other out. We were all about the same age. It was a perfect setting.
Some of those people are still working there now. I’m still friendly with a lot of the people off campus that I started with in 1982. So I think the most important thing is the group of people that I worked with, it kept me there.
Hale: What is something that you think would most surprise the general public about students who are blind?
Noyes: I would say, just recently, this last year, a group of students went on a whale-watch exposition in Massachusetts, or they would go to a sporting event.
And a lot of my friends would say, why would you take a blind person on a whale watch or a sporting event? But all of those two experiences, they could certainly hear what was happening. We described everything. They could smell the ocean. They could smell the popcorn at Fenway Park.
They used their senses. A lot of them, on a sporting event, would bring their radios and plug in headphones so that they could hear the TV announcer, the radio announcer announce the games. They just felt the atmosphere. And I think a lot of people think that if you’re blind, then you don’t get anything out of activities like that. But you do.
Hale: So when did you become a teacher at Perkins, and what prompted the change?
Noyes: I worked in Deafblind for three years and then Secondary Department advertised for a craft teacher. And that is right up my alley. So I applied and got the job in Secondary.
Hale: Do you have an example of how a skill you taught for Home and Personal Management was modified for students who are blind or visually impaired?
Noyes: I have a couple. One was Home and Personal Management are like daily living skills, including cleaning bathrooms and bedrooms and living rooms, just dusting, vacuuming, and cleaning, cooking, and then personal things. One was the measuring cups because you think, how can a blind student tell the difference between a 1/4 cup, a 1/2 cup, 3/4?
So we would find the metal measuring cups. And for us, we would stack them so that the– and if they were stacked, yes, the bigger one is the 1 cup, the smaller one is like the 1/4 cup. But a lot of times, they get unstacked. And they would pick out a cup, and they’d say, what measure is this?
So we would, with a blunt nail, we would bang like four dots, four bumps into the handle of a 1/4 cup. Two bumps in a 1/2 cup, one bump in a whole cup so that they could feel how many bumps were on the handle and then that would tell them what the measurement was.
On bed sheets, with many of my students, I would sew buttons onto the corners of the bed sheets, like the fitted sheets and the flat sheets just to help them orientate a sheet to a bed.
And sometimes I would glue buttons, big plastic buttons or balls, whatever, actual item onto their bedpost so that they could match the button to the sheet to the button to the bedpost.
And another big one was labeling foods. How can a blind person tell the difference between a can of tuna fish versus a can of cat food? So we would have– like, they would Braille this up so that they would have this copy.
But if there was one rubber band around a can of tuna, then that was a tuna. They had written this down. Maybe five rubber bands was a can of cat food. So we use the rubber band symbol. We use, some of my students with Braille.
On a piece of paper, maybe the size of a Band-Aid, we would cut the paper after they’ve Brailled it. And we would tape that to a rubber band. And then, they would be able to read on the rubber band what the food label said so that they could tell what food they were eating.
Hale: What have you found most satisfying in your relationships with students?
Noyes: In Secondary, all the students can call their teacher by their first name. So right off, we start with a very friendly relationship. And overall, the age group. I loved my age group. It was 15 to 22 years old.
I loved all types of the students. They were the feisty ones. They were the fresh ones. They were the hard-working ones. And of course, when I look back and I say, on day one they could not do this, and now the end of the school year, they’re good at it. So just seeing their progress.
Hale: So in 1988, you left Perkins to teach blind and visually impaired students in Fairbanks, Alaska for a few years. Can you talk about why you did this and what it was like?
Noyes: Sure. The travel bug hit me. And I thought, where would I like to go? So I sold my Subaru car, and I bought a tent. And I ventured up to Alaska. I did not have a job.
And come, like, the middle of July, I went to the teacher employment agency. There were two positions in Alaska for visually impaired, one in Nome, Alaska and one in Fairbanks. I wasn’t quite ready to live in Nome.
But the Fairbanks job was an itinerant teacher. So I traveled to school to school. And those schools, sometimes it would take me, like, three hours to get to one school because they’re so vastly far from each other.
And some of the times of the school year, it was totally in the dark because of the dark and light up there. And sometimes in the school year, it was totally sunny when I would go visit these schools. Great experience. Very different than Perkins but great experience.
Hale: What have been the most difficult or challenging aspects of your work, would you say?
Noyes: Probably the most challenging is when I work with a student who has behavior issues. Perkins does a great job with our CPPI trainings every year for personal protection intervention.
So that’s probably my most challenging and my most rewarding is when I see, as we say, like the light went off in their head, and they understood what was happening. They understood the concept I was teaching them.
Hale: Are there any highlights of working here you would like to talk about or work you’re most proud of?
Noyes: For me, it’s the personal things. I was asked, it was probably in the early ’90s, to go with the Perkins chorus to the Kennedy Library in Boston. And the chorus sang some songs as they dedicated one of the buildings at the Kennedy Library. And on that day, I met Caroline Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy.
And then, what is it called? Oh, my goodness. It used to be the Deafblind Building. The Hilton Building. They dedicated the Hilton Building and ex-President George H W Bush and Barbara came to dedicate the building that day. And so we all met them.
And probably the rewarding thing also, I was class advisor for many years, helping the seniors plan fundraising activities, carry through with those, and then to end the school year by going on their senior trips. Mostly, we’d go to Disney in Florida or one year we took the students to Montreal, Canada.
And the last four or five years, I started the Holiday Bazaar, which was held in Dwight Hall. And I got gifts donated. And we sold. The students came in and would buy Christmas gifts, would wrap their Christmas gifts, would make cards, all with Christmas holiday music going. And it was just a great atmosphere for the students who could go shopping.
Hale: Have the students changed at all since you’ve started working here?
In 1982, the students number-one disability was that they were just blind. And now, many of the students have multiple disabilities. We have many in wheelchairs. Some mental health issues. So yeah, they have changed a lot. I’ve seen a lot of that change.
Hale: Technology has evolved quite a bit since you started. Do you have any observations on student use of technology you’d like to share?
Noyes: I remember back in the day, in the early ’80s, the students walking down the Close, is what we call the pathways from the colleges to the Howe Building, the Close. And each of them carrying those big metal Braillers.
And now, every student I think has their own phone, their Braille ‘N Speaks, their computers that are around their necks, tied to their belts. And I think technology has been a godsend to these students because they can communicate with everyone and everything. And I have even asked some of my students for help with computers.
And just personally, for me, we used to have to sit at a Brailler Braille out recipes or homework for our students. And now, I can get on a computer and type recipes or homework and then push a button and the Duxbury machine Brailler, it spits out the Braille on paper.
Hale: Can you tell me what a Braille ‘N Speak actually does?
Noyes: They are just little machines, probably like 5 by 5 inches. And I can speak into it or speak and a student can Braille their responses. And then it speaks back to us.
Hale: Wow. What do you know about Perkins that would be surprising to people?
Noyes: This is a fun one to think about. I thought of my friends, when I tell them about Perkins, and I tell them certain things, they have no idea. One of them was, back in the early ’80s when I first started, and there still is but not as much, there is a fallout shelter, that in the early ’60s with the Cuban Missile Crisis, they built a shelter to go down underground with students and everyone at Perkins.
And back in the early ’80s, it was fun to sneak down into the fallout shelters and push those big, heavy doors. And every building on campus was connected. And when you got to the fallout shelter, I guess it was called, the main living area, there were rows and rows of metal beds, bunk beds.
There was a kitchen with tables and chairs, lots of tables and chairs. There was a library. There was like a living area down in there. And now, I know that’s all changed, but back in the early ’80s, truly, you could live down in the fallout shelter.
Another thing I just find interesting was when Helen Keller died, the Perkins Choir was asked to go to her funeral, and they did, and they sang. And then, I’ve heard from many people that the ghost of Helen Keller and she, or somebody up here, maybe it’s Mr Howe, appears in the Howe Building sometimes.
But in Keller Sullivan Building, otherwise name is KS Building, where I mostly worked the last 25 years, the ghost of Helen appears sometimes. And this last year, call me crazy, I don’t know what, but I got the honor of seeing and hearing Helen. And I went upstairs one day in Kelly Sullivan.
And I was going down the hallway, and this red chiffon-looking material was floating in the hallway. And I hung– I put my hand on the wall. And I said my name, and I just like, am I crazy? Am I losing it? And then, she took a turn down the hallway, and I went right downstairs. And I was like, oh, my gosh. I said, this is what I just saw. And my coworker is like, that’s her.
And many of the people who work in KS have seen or heard Helen. They’ve seen rocking chairs start rocking or cabinets closed or mainly someone playing the piano. And last May, a couple of months ago, I went to work, and I was the first one in KS for that morning. And I heard the piano.
And I’m thinking, what student is up early playing the piano? So I walked by, and there was nobody there. At that time, the piano had stopped. But I went by the piano to get to my office, and there was nobody there.
So again, I said to my students– or my coworkers. I came in, and the music was playing. And they said, there she is. So I think it was– I like to think that it was her way of thanking me for working at Perkins. She appeared to me.
Hale: How has your association with Perkins influenced you or affected your life?
Noyes: This is a hard one too. I loved my job there. So it made me a happy person because I truly loved working at Perkins. And I think when you work at Perkins, you have to have a sense of humor, and you have to have patience. So I think that Perkins has given me those two things.
Hale: What do you feel have been the most important changes at Perkins since you’ve been here? And that could be philosophy, programs, anything.
Noyes: In 1983, we had a Brain Injury Program at Perkins, which we don’t have anymore. And in 1988, there was a Life Skills Program, and it combined with Secondary. So that was a big difference I saw in the programs there.
The buildings, on the front of the Howe Building, before you go in the big doors, there’s two plaques. And one of them on the east side, so it’d be on the left side of the door, says Boys Close.
And on the right side, it would say Girls Close. So back when Perkins started, I believe that the boys were on always on the left side of the campus, the girls were on the right.
And when I started, the Secondary Department had four cottages. And they were not coed. It was the Fisher and the May Cottages were for girls, and Brooks and Oliver were for the guys. And now, they’re all combined, and they’re mostly how you get into cottage is by age. But they are boys coed cottages all around.
Hale: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?
Noyes: No. I think it’s covered at all.
Hale: Well, thank you so much. Really appreciate this.
Noyes: You’re very welcome. It’s been a pleasure, and I’m glad Perkins is doing this. I think it’ll be fun to hear these things in years to come.