Perkins School for the Blind’s new college readiness program graduated its inaugural class on Saturday, sending off eight young adults with the skills necessary to pursue higher education.
Open to students with vision loss from all over the country, College Success@Perkins is designed to build upon blindness and academic skills that are critical to succeeding in college. For nine months, students worked on everything from independent travel and living skills, the use of technology and how to take advantage of different types of disability support services a school might offer. Participants also took classes at nearby universities.
“You learned about finding your own voices, to try new things, to take risks sometimes and fail successfully,” said program director Leslie Thatcher during the commencement ceremony. “This has enabled you to expand what you’re capable of.”
As for the inaugural class, most of the graduates have already been admitted to college and are gearing up to start in the fall. Others have decided to pursue different personal and professional opportunities. All of them, though, said upon completing the program they now feel much better prepared to transition into adulthood.
“There's been a mindset shift,” said Maddy, 18, a program graduate from Florida. “I'm cooking, doing laundry and my O&M is a lot better. I'm just a lot more confident. Whether or not I wanted to admit it at the time, it was the right choice coming here.”
Added Steph, 18, a grad from Minnesota, “I didn’t always feel the most supported [in high school], so it’s been a really nice change here, and even a bit of a shock with the support I’ve been getting.”
That pleasant shock was felt by parents as well.
Heidi Scheffer initially felt extremely anxious when her daughter Jordan got serious about attending College Success. Coming from North Carolina, she was nervous about sending her only child so far away from home. At the same time, she worried about the length of the curriculum, which mimics a nine-month school year. “I kept thinking, why’s it so long?” she said.
Those worries subsided, though, when spring break rolled around, seven months after Jordan’s arrival to Perkins, and Scheffer was able to see for the first time how far her daughter had come.
“Had the program been shorter, we never would’ve seen these changes,” she said. “She’s so much more confident. I think she always had some fear and anxiety and she no longer has that. To me, that’s huge. And I feel so much more confident about her being on her own.”
Jordan is set to attend college in North Carolina this fall.
Meanwhile, with the first year now in the rearview, College Success staff will take time to build on the program before welcoming the class of 2020 later this summer. And though the curriculum will be tweaked some, the underlying philosophy will remain the same.
“We have a little plaque in the cottages and I’d say it’s our motto at College Success,” added Thatcher on Saturday during her opening remarks at graduation. “It’s a picture of a little baby bird, asking its parent, ‘What if I fail?’ And that wonderful, wise parent reflects back, ‘Oh, but darling, what if you fly?’”