This story appears in the Spring 2019 issue of In Focus.
Perkins School for the Blind doesn’t limit its work to the students on campus. Every year, the Community Program serves six times that many public school students throughout New England and beyond. And given the need, its reach is only growing.
“Many teachers [who are not trained to teach the visually impaired] are intimidated and end up over-helping or setting lower expectations,” says Teri Turgeon, Director of Community Programs. “We help them set the tone, enable them to work with the student most effectively and act in service of the classroom itself.”
To do that, Perkins provides access to highly qualified educators, its assistive device workshop, its library and training center. It also provides hardware and software assistance, connection to vendors and access to various outreach programs. Most importantly, though, it provides support at every stage of the educational process.
The Educational Partnerships program benefits students between ages four and 22 and empowers traveling, or itinerant, teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) to partner with entire school systems—and all available technology—to ensure children have the needed accommodations.
Perkins’ Outreach programs allow students to come to campus for Short Courses, where they meet other children their age who also have a vision impairment. These events provide a platform for encouraging self-determination and making friends and connections.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Perkins also trains and certifies TVIs, leverages some of the technology it uses on campus to empower public school students and much more. This spring, Community Programs will even pilot a program to test the efficacy of telepractice—serving children and families by phone or online communication in addition to in person.
“We need a reliable and professional organization that can meet the needs of our students,” says Melissa Maguire, director of Student Services at the Monomoy Regional School District in Massachusetts, which has worked with Perkins. “The benefit is the level of expertise and services available for our students with visual impairment. The experience with Perkins, as always, has been fantastic.”
Ultimately, Turgeon says, these efforts serve to strengthen the relationship between the student and the system.
“As far as we’re concerned, a school district is our partner,” she says. “Their student is in good hands with us.”