Throughout the year, students of all ages come from outside Perkins to learn skills not taught during their regular public school day and to socialize with peers. The goal of the Outreach Short Courses program is for these young women and men to acquire a better understanding of how to navigate the world, and for their families to gain the tools to support and encourage them. Beth Caruso, director of Outreach Services, sat down with Perspectives to discuss the program.
Why does Outreach exist?
We address skills that there isn't time to address in the regular public school day: independent living skills and social skills. It's also an opportunity for the students to be with other kids who are visually impaired so they know they're not alone. Here, they're just kids.
How does the Outreach Short Courses program work?
Students live together in on-campus apartments. The apartments are set up with boys in one, girls in another. They do breakfast there, and eat dinner as a group downstairs. It's about living with other kids, planning their recreation and cooking together every day. It gives them the opportunity to stand up and talk about their "first," something they've done that day for the first time.
What kinds of programs does Outreach offer?
During the school year we have weekend programs and vacation week programs. We also have a summer program that's one week for elementary-age kids and three weeks for older kids. It's focused on independent living skills like food shopping, cooking, cleaning, braille and going to the YMCA, but also social skills. We also offer off-campus activities, like water sports, rock climbing and trampolines. They work hard but also have fun!
What are your most popular programs?
Camp Abilities sports program is popular, as well as theater. Last fall we hosted radio and broadcast weekends—which were very popular—using the Grousbeck Center for Students & Technology. That brought in some new students for sure. It's trendy, cool. We've also done "back to basics" weekends. They offer critical training and parents love them, but it's harder to get the kids to choose them. We offer survival skills for college. We also have had a transportation weekend, where students get to ride buses and boats and sit on an airplane. They go into the city and it's lots of fun for kids who've never done these things. And we also organize a trip to Space Camp in Alabama.
Where do the students come from?
New England is our base, but we get kids from New York and beyond. We had a mom from Atlanta come up here many times with her son. She said there were no opportunities like this at home.