Customized. Flexible. Transformative.
These words describe the instructional approach for students at Perkins — where expertise and passion combine to provide world-class teaching and global leadership in educating children and young adults with visual impairments and multiple disabilities, as well as those who are deafblind.
These three words also describe Perkins International Academy’s Study Visit Program.
Open to educators, school and government leaders, health care providers, supporters and parents from around the world, the Study Visit Program offers participants the opportunity to visit the Perkins campus and experience hands-on learning and observation, while making face-to-face connections with Perkins experts and leaders who understand regional challenges in visitors’ home countries.
It’s an unparalleled opportunity to access the world-renowned expertise at Perkins firsthand.
In September, a professor and seven of her students — pre-service special education teachers — traveled from Nanjing Normal University of Special Education in China to stay and learn on the Perkins campus for one week as part of the Study Visit Program.
“The idea of the Study Visit Program is to show people what is possible for children with disabilities, especially children with multiple disabilities and visual impairment or deafblindness — and to have conversations with them about what is possible in their countries,” says Ami Tango-Limketkai, who was the lead instructor for the group from Nanjing.“We create a schedule that really targets what they need to see when they’re here.”.
With the use of a Mandarin/English translator, this group of future teachers and their professor spend a life-changing week at Perkins — a place they have heard a lot about.
“We all know Perkins is a very famous school in special education,” says Nanjing student Chen Yang, who,along with her classmates, has taken courses in China taught by a graduate of Perkins International’s Educational Leadership Program. “He told us a lot of stories about Perkins, so when I [heard about the Study Visit Program], I really wanted to come.”
On their first day at Perkins, the visitors from Nanjing observe Danielle Bushey, a physical therapist, and Theresa Johnson, an occupational therapist, in action with their students. After the students leave for the day, the visitors have a chance to ask questions about what they saw during class: “Why did you hold the student’s waist, not hands?”…“Why was that child getting physical therapy?”…“What is CVI?”
While answering questions and sharing handouts describing effective teaching strategies, Bushey and Johnson emphasize critical philosophies that underpin instruction at Perkins, including the importance of getting to know each child and adjusting approaches for individualized learning goals.
Bushey and Johnson also make the experience hands-on.
They pass around a bucket full of sensory items that they use with Perkins students to help with focus or alertness: sticky slime, a twirling light, a grooved collapsible plastic tube. The visitors also explore and try out equipment in the room: a swing installed in the ceiling, large spiky exercise balls.
The Perkins instructors explain how each tool works and how some can be used to help strengthen muscles, stimulate sensory experiences or otherwise provide necessary adaptations to give a student a richer and more inclusive experience.
They remind the group that every child is different, and every child can learn.
For the next four days, the visitors from Nanjing follow an intensive schedule created specifically for them: visiting the Infant-Toddler Program, touring campus — including the Assistive Device Center and the Braille and Talking Book Library — and learning from leaders in the Deafblind Program and the Asia and Pacific Regional Program of Perkins International.
“When they first came, they looked a little unsure about what we were showing them — about how this can be possible for children in their own country,” says Tango-Limketkai. “But now, they look at me and they say, ‘We have hope. What we see here can happen in China.’”
On their last day on campus, the visitors from Nanjing share how the week at Perkins has forever impacted them.
Based on what she has learned at Perkins about children with multiple disabilities, Nanjing Professor Shi Xiaohui describes changes she plans to make to the courses she teaches, including an upcoming psychology and special education class.
One university student says she is so inspired by Perkins’ urge to “Dream Big” that she now wants to one day make the Individualized Education Program (IEP) a legal document in China.
Others express excitement to use newly learned strategies during upcoming teaching practicums and to share with fellow teachers-in-training in China about the work being done at Perkins, especially after seeing it first-hand.
“‘All children can learn, and all children can communicate’ — This philosophy really touched my heart. I’m so moved about it,” says Nanjing student Gu Xinluo.
Of the value of the Study Visit Program, Tango-Limetkai says, “It can be applied to any country that wants change.”
Perkins works with groups to design visits around their unique professional goals and the needs of their home country communities — a flexibility and customization Perkins knows is key to providing a transformative learning experience.
The Study Visit Program is part of a suite of educational offerings and just one of the ways that Perkins is committed to the belief that every child, including those with disabilities, can learn and has a right to quality education.
At a farewell ceremony for the educators from Nanjing, Perkins President and CEO Dave Power addresses the visitors before handing out their certificates: “This is just the beginning, because the work that you do will be seen throughout your country.”
The visitors from Nanjing — just hours away from a long flight home — beam with enthusiasm.
“So I’m hoping,” continues Power, “that this is the beginning of something big.”