School for the Blind-Stories

White Cane Day, 2020

Students dancing in front of Acacia Park Bandshell

White Cane Safety Day was on October 15th! In the past we have had marches on Platte Avenue and performances down in Acacia Park to celebrate this day… But how many of us know just what White Cane Safety Day is?

In 1964, with bipartisan support, Congress passed a joint resolution recognizing October 15th as White Cane Safety Day, recognizing that white canes enable people with visual impairments to travel safely and independently. Within hours President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law. Most states adopted laws restricting white cane use to those with visual impairments, and other laws requiring drivers to yield right-of-way to pedestrians who were carrying white canes.

Over time, as the white cane became more of a tool for independence, the focus shifted from safety to independent ability. The increased independence that comes with proper cane use enabled the visually impaired to reach success. The cane became a symbol representing achievement!

With the Covid 19 restrictions, CSDB’s White Cane Day Celebration looked a little different. We held a virtual event starting at 12:30 PM on Zoom. Even though the meeting was virtual, the excitement was tangible wherever you may be!  We had singing, poetry, dancing, a guest appearance by Chandler Williams (past CSDB graduate and songwriter), and even a “White Cane Fashion Show” in which students showed off some tactile identifiers they created to make their cane unique!

Blind student group on white cane day in front of cinema marquee "Pride"

Staff Back to School

This year has been vastly different from any year I have experienced since 9/11. We are living in a new world, with brand new customs. The pandemic has brought a catalyst for change across all facets of society. My profession in teaching has been vastly affected by the COVID 19 outbreak. It has been challenging, difficult, and rewarding. Educators are like boxers, we take punishing blows, but we always get back up. We may be on the ropes at times, however, we always make a comeback in the last round.

>As educators, we want to be in the classroom with our students. That is where we THRIVE. We have had to adapt, overcome, and figure out how to deliver quality instruction. At CSDB, I have had the utmost support from my administrator to be successful during the pandemic. This may be an unprecedented year for many of us. One thing, I know for sure is that we will overcome and persevere. Our students and the teachers at CSDB are STRONG and RESILIENT. This year will be a great litmus test for online instruction. It will be a test that we will ACE.

School for the Blind staff shown in a Zoom Grid window

LEGO® Braille Bricks- from the LEGO Foundation

Earlier this school year, the School for the Blind received a new, highly anticipated, fun braille-learning tool: LEGO® Braille Bricks, from the LEGO Foundation. As described on the LEGO Foundation’s website, the LEGO® Braille Bricks concept is a play-based methodology that teaches braille to children who are blind or have a visual impairment. Each brick in the LEGO® Braille Bricks toolkit retains its iconic form, but unlike a regular LEGO® brick, the studs are arranged to correspond to numbers and letters in the Braille alphabet. Each brick shows the printed version of the symbol or letter, allowing sighted and blind children to play and learn together on equal terms. This ingenious combination of features opens up a whole new world of playful learning that teaches children Braille in an enjoyable and tactile environment. The LEGO Foundation and LEGO Group are behind this pioneering project that will help children with blindness or visual impairment learn Braille in a playful and engaging way using moderated LEGO bricks. We have teamed up with blind associations to develop, test and launch the concept known as LEGO® Braille Bricks.

Students learning print are surrounded by vast amounts of toys, games, puzzles, books and many other materials that make learning print very fun, engaging, and meaningful. The equivalent types of materials for students learning braille have not always been so readily available. One of the reasons these LEGO® Braille Bricks have been so highly anticipated is because of their “learning through play” benefit. Each LEGO® Braille Brick kit contains braille bricks with letters, basic punctuation symbols, number signs for creating numbers, and signs of operation math symbols so these LEGOs can be used across a variety of subject areas.

What makes these LEGO® Braille Bricks so exciting is that they are designed to support tactile learning skills while being fun, interesting, motivating, engaging, and meaningful materials students can use to build and play with. When learning visually, we receive whole-picture information instantaneously; learning things tactually initially takes more time to explore/figure out individual pieces of information and then putting all those pieces together to form the whole-picture concept. Braille is an amazing literacy code based on a set of six dots presented in individual braille cells or in combination with two or more braille cells but learning it can be tricky. What makes learning braille tricky is having to figure out which dots of each braille cell are there, which dots are not there, and where each dot is located within each braille cell and in relation to the adjoining braille cells. Developing the tactile perception skills to figure this all out is often challenging and time-consuming. These braille bricks have very enlarged braille dots that provide more tactually distinct patterns, which in turn provide more tactual information for figuring out each braille symbol.

Students of various ages, abilities, and stages of braille learning in the School for the Blind have been enjoying playing with the bricks since being introduced to them earlier in the school year. Students have given us positive feedback about how much easier it is for them to figure out the braille on the bricks. Students who have had a hard time with learning braille despite being provided with a wide variety of braille-learning activities, strategies, and techniques are already showing more success with using these braille bricks and are expressing more interest in and excitement about learning braille. We have a whole lot more playing and learning to do, but for now these initial successes are sure making our teacher hearts smile!

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Image 1 is an example of Braille Lego letters set up on a LEGO base as the braille letters would be on a worksheet or in a book. The first line has two letters a student has learned and can accurately/independently identify tactually, giving this student some “reading” success right away. The second line has letters this student has expressed interest in learning next because they are the first letters of names of characters from TV shows the student likes. The third line is the introduction of a new, more complex skill for this student to begin learning to recognize her name within a line of braille symbols/words.

Image 2 shows a student using Braille Legos for a number-building and recognition game in math class. The student has a Lego base with a row of braille numbers along the entire length of the bottom line of the base. The student’s hands are close together on the Legos towards the center of the line.

3 rows of lego braille bricks on a lego base
Image 1

young student in mask reading Lego braille bricks on a lego base
Image 2

Chemistry and 3d Models

two 3d printed image of atomic orbitals

Students in the School for the Blind continue to demonstrate creativity, resourcefulness, and adaptability during a time of both in-person and online learning. Students in the high school Chemistry class were challenged with modeling specific energy levels within an atom, called orbitals, which exist in different 3D shapes in relation to the central point of an atom, the nucleus. In-person high school students built tactile orbital models using simple modeling clay and toothpicks, one student going as far as inserting some marbles into her orbital model to represent electrons. Though online students didn’t have these materials on hand, they were zoomed in for the activity and used their creative writing skills to describe shapes and positions of these phenomena, doing an excellent job of painting a word picture of their orbital models. Through this activity, the strangely complex, submicroscopic world comes into plain focus without aid of any lens or microscope, and can be experienced and understood through the hands and the imagination.

Oratorical Contest

On Friday, February 5th, eight high school and middle school students in the School for the Blind gathered online to compete in the annual Optimist Club Oratorical Contest sponsored by the Academy Optimist Club of Colorado Springs. In speeches that were between four and five minutes in length students spoke eloquently on the topic; “Healing the World with Optimism.” The students’ peers, teachers, and family members were able to view the contest live, on Zoom. Contest judges stated that they were moved and challenged by students’ perspectives and the meaningful content each student chose to present.

Prizes were given to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place contestants. The contestants who took 1st and 2nd place in the school-level contest will go on to compete in the Super Regional Optimist Club Oratorical Contest being held virtually on April 10, 2021. While it is true that this year’s contests look a little different, thanks to the creativity, flexibility, and hard work of the Academy Optimist Club members, CSDB students, and staff, this year’s Optimist Club Oratorical Contest in the School for the Blind was an unmitigated success!

1 male student and 3 female students with a teacher in a video grid