A week of exploration
From Fenway Park to Castle Island, public school students with visual impairment take a sensory tour of Boston during a summer Outreach Program
By Karen Shih
As 11-year-old Alex slipped into the game-worn uniform of retired Red Sox legend David Ortiz, he had just one thought: He wished he could share this “Big Papi” experience with his own Big Poppy – his grandfather.
“He’s a huge baseball fan, and he brought me to my first game,” said Alex. “I didn’t know they still had this jersey! It’s so cool.”
That unique opportunity was part of Perkins School for the Blind’s new Explore Boston Outreach Program, which took public school students who are visually impaired, ages 7 to 13, to local attractions in the Boston area. The 15 students practiced a variety of skills, especially orientation and mobility and interpersonal communication, while having fun and learning about science, sports and history.
“We had a very successful first year with a lot of hands-on, interactive activities for the students,” said Pat Ryan, supervisor of Outreach Short Courses.
During a tour of Fenway Park, guide Joseph Rooney adjusted his usual plan to give the Perkins students a more tactile experience. As the group sat in blue seats in left field, the oldest in the stadium, he passed out the Ortiz jersey, a wool replica of a 1912 jersey (“Imagine how hot that would be!”), a game-used baseball and a bag of infield dirt. As they passed through the visiting team’s locker room, Rooney let the students climb onto the couches and feel the individual lockers, so they could understand how compact they were.
“I’m going to tell all my friends at school that they’ll never match what I did this summer,” Alex said.
The weeklong overnight program was a new experience for many of the students, who had never spent a night away from home. But by Friday, they were full of tales from the week and proudly ticked off a long list of new friends on their fingers.
The Explore Boston staff included two visually impaired role models for the younger students: intern Alex, a high school student who accompanied the group on trips and helped prepare meals, and night shift staffer Danielle Sturgeon, a college sophomore who oversaw students as they hung out on the Perkins campus or attended a Watertown concert.
“I feel like I connect with the kids on a different level because I’m visually impaired,” said Sturgeon. She hopes to go into counseling and work with kids in the future.
“I’m going to tell all my friends at school that they’ll never match what I did this summer."
After a week of exploring Boston, each student had his or her own favorite activity.
“I enjoyed the Museum of Science the most,” said 13-year-old Ta’naya, who wants to become a scientist. “Thanks to my vision loss that leaves me with more obstacles. But I want to show people that we have the chance to do the same thing.”
The museum provided plenty of multisensory activities, including an interactive exhibit where students could test their sense of hearing and smell. Later, the group visited the Discovery Museum in nearby Acton, Massachusetts, where they explored a giant chess set and a massive treehouse.
Adrian, 7, loved the Boston Duck Tour – “because we went in the pond!” – where the group learned about Boston’s history while riding in a World War II-era amphibious vehicle. After driving through the city, the Duck Boat splashed into the Charles River, where students took turns steering it through the water.
The group also went on a whale watch, which Ryan adapted by bringing along whale models. That way, as whales dove or waved a fin by the boat, he could show students with no vision which part of the whale was out of the water.
The week culminated with a trip to Castle Island, where students explored the path around Fort Independence and waded in Pleasure Bay, listening to the planes fly overhead on their way to Boston Logan International Airport.
“My favorite is Castle Island, because we’re here right now!” said Elias, 9. Though he’d broken his foot earlier in the summer and had to be in a wheelchair, his new buddies helped him feel included in all the activities. “Everybody’s my friend,” he said.
Students explore the paths around Castle Island.