by Barbara Pierce and Daniel B. Frye
Do you remember those endless days of summer when you were a child, days so hot you didn’t want to move and often so boring that you thought the cooler hours of the evening when parents might take you for ice cream or to a movie would never arrive? The return to school in September was almost a relief, at least until the academic demands of another grade set you to pining for free time again.
Today’s students seem to have less unstructured time in the summer. Working parents are compelled to find supervised activities for children when they aren’t in school. Blind youngsters usually have fewer choices of summer activities in which they are welcome. However, that’s not the case in Colorado. The Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) offers something for just about every age group above toddlers.
The Earn and Learn program for high school students and the Summer for Success program for those heading to college operate together, using the same classes and staff members. Both programs are eight weeks long. The first four weeks, including the NFB national convention, focus on intensive skills instruction. During the last four weeks the Earn and Learn students spend half their time actually working and being paid. The rest of the time they practice their abilities to cook, maintain an apartment, travel independently, and use Braille and computers. The college-bound students spend their second four weeks continuing to hone these personal skills, but they also work on advocating for themselves with disabled students offices, taking notes, accessing university Websites, and generally increasing their ability to succeed on campus.
The day we arrived at the center was the first day of the summer program as well. Seventeen high school students and six college prep students had arrived on Saturday. They were wound up and ready for a summer of challenging classes and recreation. Nicolas Crisosto from California directed both programs as well as Initiation to Independence, the program for middle school students that began after convention. The instructional staff members dealing with all of these groups were George McDermith, technology; Eliza Portugal, Braille; Booth Calder and Michelle Chacon, home management; and Darian Smith and Steve Patten, travel.
In addition to everything else they did, the summer students took an overnight camping and canoeing trip, did rock climbing, attended a baseball game and a concert, went to movies and shopping, and enjoyed dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.
The middle school students were integrated when possible into the older groups. They lived in the apartments and took classes with them. Their program was just four weeks long, and as part of it they shadowed successful blind adults at their jobs. With the older students they were introduced to the martial arts and learned something about skin care and making a good appearance.
In addition to these programs the CCB also conducts Confidence Camp for Kids for elementary school students from age five to nine or ten. This is a two-week program employing two experienced teachers of blind students--Trina Boyd-Pratt and Michelle Chacon--and a full-time aide, Rick Hammond. Michelle is herself blind, the young mother of three daughters, and a teacher of blind students. Trina taught in the CCB’s adult program for many years and has been teaching blind children since she earned her master’s in teaching blind students. Rick is a graduate of the CCB adult program and serves as a wonderful role model, especially for the boys.
Confidence Camp for Kids is a day program, though one mother brought her son from Mississippi because she was convinced that this experience was exactly what he needed to build his self-confidence as a blind child. Each camper was paired with an ITP (Independence Training Program) adult volunteer buddy, which provided the children with mentors and gave the rehabilitation program students practice modeling good skills and real independence. One Hispanic camper was paired with Luis Herrera as his buddy. After meeting Luis for the first time, he commented with astonishment that he hadn’t known that any other blind people could speak Spanish.
The eight children in the Confidence Camp worked on Braille and practiced using their white canes and learning to note cues as they traveled that would tell them where they were. They also did cooking projects and made puppets, which they demonstrated during their talent show on the final day. While we were there, the campers and their ITP buddies went for a picnic and swimming party at a water park. In addition the children and their buddies visited a petting zoo at a farm and explored a firemen museum, where they climbed around fire trucks. During class they went to the grocery store and practiced making beds.
By the time the program ended, these eight youngsters were more confident as blind people. Working and playing with blind adults had given them a more positive view of themselves as blind people and reassured them that they were like other kids. In fact they went home with bragging rights about all the cool things they had done during Confidence Camp.
That’s the bottom line for all the summer programs. The students who attended returned home with new friends, new confidence, and new skills—not bad for the investment of a summer. Just imagine the essays about their summer they can write this fall.