The first day at a new school is never easy—a new building, new teachers, and lots of new classmates. Now imagine your first day as an eight year-old who is completely blind. Where is the building’s entrance? The classroom? The bathroom? It sounds terrifying.
Yet for Jocelyn Riddle who joined the Blind Children’s Center midyear as a 1st Grader, the transition has been surprisingly smooth. “Jocelyn is an upbeat, confident girl at heart,” said Dr. Fernanda-Armenta Schmitt, the Center’s Director of Education & Family Services, “And our teachers and specialists have done a great job integrating her into the program midyear. But take one look around at recess and you’ll see why she’s adapted to her new school so quickly.”
It’s a sunny afternoon on the playground and Jocelyn is giggling as she whips around on the tire swing with her new best friends, Litzy Jacobo and Destinee Rendon. Both legally blind since birth, Litzy and Destinee started at the Center as toddlers and have been thick as thieves ever since. Destinee reads large print, and like Jocelyn, Litzy is a Braille reader. There is conversation, too low for adults to make out, and a chorus of laughter as the swing spins around at dizzying speeds. Typical kids.
Much of Litzy and Destinee’s confidence is directly attributable to the full inclusion model which the Center’s program is built on. They have benefitted from years of exposure to classmates who are sighted, providing them with the skills to navigate a “mainstream” school environment after they graduate from the Center. In turn, Litzy and Destinee have given their many sighted friends the ability to understand diverse needs and demonstrate empathy beyond their years.
“As VI professionals, we understand that children with visual impairments can be delayed in social skills, language, and imaginative play,” said Assistant Director of Education, Bianca Ciebrant, “Yet when these three girls are interacting at recess, their behavior is indistinguishable from any group of sighted 1st grade girls on any playground.”
They are excelling academically, too. “Litzy and Jocelyn frequently work together on their Braille skills, which is making them both stronger readers,” said their classroom teacher Rachel Kim. “The two of them are actually quite similar in many ways. Bright and inquisitive with a sense of humor and precociousness that surprises me at times,” she added with a laugh of her own.
Like all of the Center’s classrooms, Kim’s 1st Grade is split nearly evenly, comprised of these three girls who have visual impairments, and another four typically developing girls and boys with no vision diagnoses. “The irony and the beauty here is that Litzy and Destinee are modeling inclusion within their own group, taking a new student under their wings,” said Dr. Armenta-Schmitt. “It’s wonderful to observe.”
Jocelyn’s mother, Brianna, has already noticed the impact on her daughter. “We’ve had Jocelyn in several different schools and programs since she was a toddler, but I’ve never seen her blossom like this. She’s become more confident in all areas of her life. We’re so happy we found the Blind Children’s Center.”
Jocelyn is so happy she found Litzy and Destinee.