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Programs & Services
Kindergarten Program

Program Description

The Kindergarten Program serves children who are visually impaired, ages five to six years. The program has been designed to offer a fully inclusive environment, meeting all state curriculum standards for kindergarten classrooms, while continuing to provide support and expertise relating specifically to visual impairments. It provides comprehensive, individualized education and training in sensory development, utilization of low vision, orientation mobility, occupational therapy (physical development), speech/language development and literacy preparedness in combination with required state curriculum for the kindergarten level. With a unique full-day program both students and parents benefit from extended instruction and specialized training directed toward individual needs. Classes have a ratio of one staff member to four students and class size is limited to eight students.

VIDEO: Kindergarten 01:59 04/29/06
The importance of early intervention for children with visual impairments is presented. Narrated by Vin Scully.

Need
California school districts are faced with a $5.2 billion funding cut as their portion of California $35 billion budget shortfall. Los Angeles Unified alone must reduce spending by $480 million over the next 18 months [January 1, 2005 Reason Public Policy Institute: Lisa Snell].

The headlines in 2003 read: SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS WILL TAKE A $214 MILLION STATE GENERAL FUND HIT TO HELP RESOLVE THE STATE FISCAL CRISIS

Due to funding issues, resources in the public sector are limited. With a shortage of teachers trained in supporting the visually impaired and the paucity of funds, students often receive services based on availability, not specific needs; putting them at greater risk of falling behind their sighted peers and weakening the foundation upon which their future learning depends.

The Blind Childrens Center’s Kindergarten Program gives these children an additional critical year of comprehensive specialized education and training. It will significantly improve the children’s chances of successfully integrating into mainstream classrooms and will decease the risk that they will fall behind their sighted peers.

The Blind Childrens Center is aware of the multiple needs of visually impaired children and has made adaptations to curriculum and teaching techniques to better suit the students’ needs. The Center currently runs successful Infant and Educational Preschool programs. The success of these programs serves as a building block for the Kindergarten Program.

The Kindergarten Program has a regular curriculum with the classroom teacher and assistant teacher. Additionally, the students will experience a unique physical environment including a specially designed terrain that assists in mobility, and therapeutic services that are provided by the Occupational Therapist, Orientation and Mobility Specialist (cane travel) and Teacher for the Visually Impaired (Braille use). The current resources and skills available through both the Center’s facilities and staff serve as invaluable tools in helping kindergarten students who are blind or visually impaired prepare for mainstream classrooms and develop skills to initiate their success in a sighted world.

The Kindergarten Program also supports parents by continuing to encourage involvement and learning. With a predetermined degree of participation agreed upon by each family, parents continue to develop their skills and knowledge of their child’s specialized needs. They benefit from access to resources not available to them through mainstream schools. Specially trained professionals help assist the families as they forge a better understanding of their child’s diagnosis and future development. Overwhelming parental support has been a clear indication of the Center’s need for the Kindergarten Program. Many families have noticed a gross difference in the basic foundation of learning that the Center offers a child that is blind or visually impaired.

Goal and objectives of program
The goal of the Kindergarten Program is to provide a fully inclusive educational environment to assist children who are visually impaired to develop their knowledge of subjects determined by the California state kindergarten curriculum. The Center strives to maximize each student’s potential and prepare him/her to enter a mainstream classroom. The program further seeks to empower parents to support their children’s development and to advocate on their children’s behalf. To these ends, the program has the following academic objective for students: 85% will meet the requirements set forth by California kindergarten curriculum including an increase in literacy skills.

The program has the following developmental objectives for students:
• 95% will improve their gross motor skills
• 95% will increase their fine motor skills
• 90% will enhance the clarity of their speech/language
• 85% will develop appropriate social & communication skills

The program objectives for parents are:
• 95% will strengthen parenting skills which enhance their child’s development
• 95% will utilize supportive resources
• 95% will demonstrate increased knowledge and advocacy

Program personnel
The Center’s Kindergarten Program Team consists of Marleny Vydelingum, B.A. Education, Yanet Huerta, assistant teacher, currently pursuing an A.A. in Child Development, and Carlos Martinez, the Center’s Parent Mentor who went through an intensive three-year mentor training program at the Center. Vydelingum, Caceres and Martinez are all parents of children who are visual impaired and have attended the Center’s Educational Preschool Program. Additionally, the Kindergarten Program will work in conjunction with Bianca Ciebrant, M.A., COMS, Orientation & Mobility Specialist; Jill Brody, Licensed Occupational Therapist; Rosalinda Mendiola, B.A., Teacher of the Visually Impaired; and Alfredo Kertzman, MSW. The team is supervised by the Center’s Director of Education and Family Services, Fernanda Armenta-Schmitt, Ph.D, Licensed Clinical Psychologist.

Methodology
At the beginning of each school year, the Center’s interdisciplinary staff members develop an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for each child which identifies the family’s issues and goals, and details the services to be provided through the Center. Having participated in the development of the IEP, the parents must approve the plan before it is complete.

Kindergarten class sessions are held Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., with extended daycare available for working parents. Class size is limited to eight students to ensure personal attention and a ratio of one adult to every four children. The Center feels it is important to offer the students a fully inclusive educational environment therefore, a kindergarten class will be comprised of four children who are visually impaired and four sighted children. Classrooms operate under the guidance of a teacher and an assistant who specialize in the area of childhood blindness.

The classroom teacher and the assistant work with students daily to educate each child on a wide range of academic subjects such as language arts, including both conventional and Braille literacy, mathematics, social studies and science/health. Periodically during the week, as determined in each child’s IEP, additional support is offered to the children by specialists such as the Occupational Therapist, the Orientation & Mobility Specialist, the Speech Therapist, the Adaptive Services Specialist/Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Family Workers and others.

While children are enrolled in the Center’s Kindergarten Program, parents simultaneously continue to build their skills. With assistance of the Family Worker, Orientation & Mobility Specialist and others, parents learn specific techniques to use at home to reinforce the gains their children make at school. Individual and group/classroom instruction further teaches parents to: use Braille; work within the public school system to advocate for their children and access additional community resources. Parent groups enable family members to share experiences with their peers and to give and receive emotional support.

Evaluation
Evaluation of the Kindergarten Program is the responsibility of the Center’s Director of Education and Family Services. Outcomes are measured through the year-end review of all students’ IEP (Individual Educational Plan). The IEP includes objectives for each child which are monitored and modified as appropriate through sessions with the Center’s interdisciplinary staff and specialists assigned to work with that child and family. If the student is not making expected progress, further assessment follows and additional services may be added at any time.

Budget
The start-up budget for the Kindergarten Program is $194,154. This will allow the Center to hire a teacher specializing in childhood blindness and a well-trained teaching assistant. The amount will also extend specialists hours (Orientation & Mobility, Occupational Therapy, Speech & Language), purchase curriculum and allow for the purchase of educational equipment such as individual desks and chairs, a computer, in class Braille writers and additional classroom materials.

Funding
Blind Childrens Center is a private 501(c)(3) organization which receives no city, state, county or federal funding. It is not a United Way agency. The Center relies on private donations from individuals, foundations, corporations, special events and earnings from our investment account. One-hundred percent of donor contributions directly support the Center’s programs. Administrative costs are supported through earnings on investments. The Center provides center-based and home-based educational and family services free of charge. All services are available in English and Spanish.

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