The bell rings inside Escuela Panamericana, a public school in Córdoba, Argentina, signaling the end of recess. A chatty swarm of third-graders files into class the only way third-graders around the globe know how – with boundless energy and enthusiasm.
One student needs some help getting to her desk. Agustina, 9, is totally blind. Without hesitation, a smiling classmate takes her by the hand and leads the way.
Agustina is the only student in her class with a disability. This is her fourth year in an inclusive classroom, where she learns and laughs each day alongside her non-disabled peers.
“She’s just like any third-grader,” said María Eugenia Ferreyra, the vice principal at Instituto Helen Keller. The institute provides support services to Agustina and other students with visual impairment in Córdoba province, where Perkins International has been an active partner with the Ministry of Education for more than 26 years.
When class is in session, the other students start reading vocabulary words from the blackboard. Agustina doesn’t miss a beat. She plays back an audio-described lesson plan on her accessible laptop computer and then takes a few notes on her Perkins Brailler.
“She’s working with the same material as her classmates,” Ferreyra said. “The adaptations we make have more to do with access than content.”
Inclusive education for children and young adults with visual impairment and multiple disabilities is a top priority in Córoba province, according to José Luis Chaban, the provincial Ministry of Education’s special education coordinator.
“At first we were not sure how to approach this population,” he said. “Perkins has helped us through teacher training and support for ministry staff. We started working at five schools, then 15 and currently we are providing multiple-disability services to all the schools in the province. Perkins has helped these children become visible in our education system.”
Since its founding in 1989, Perkins International has partnered with ministry officials in Córdoba to expand and improve educational opportunities for students with multiple disabilities.
Today Perkins International continues to provide training and technical support to teachers, school administrators and ministry officials in Córdoba province. Multiple disability education here is among the strongest in any province in Argentina, according to Gloria Rodriguez-Gil, Perkins International’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Our partnership with the ministry has totally changed the educational landscape in Córdoba for students with multiple disabilities and their families,” said Rodriguez-Gil. “It’s a model for what we hope to accomplish across Argentina and across the entire region.”
The majority of students with disabilities in Córdoba province are educated in an inclusive setting. They receive support from staff at special schools like Instituto Helen Keller, which currently serves 120 students and offers services ranging from early intervention programs to classes on orientation and mobility and daily living skills.
Agustina first attended Instituto Helen Keller at age 3, when she was considered a slow learner and struggled to develop socially.
By age 5 she was ready to enroll at Escuela Panamericana.
“Initially it was very difficult for Agustina to communicate with other people,” said Ferreyra. “But she eventually opened up and was able to develop good relationships with her teachers. So we decided to include her in the regular school. And now she’s thriving.”