Lydia Pagan, guest writer and long-term volunteer teacher at SCH, writes about her experience working with one of our blind girls, Chloe.
It is with great urgency that I finally share with you about my student, Chloe. September 27th, 2017 marked three years at SCH for Chloe. Three years of immeasurable growth, laughter, joy, and absolute love. For this kiddo especially I am eager to see what unfolds before her, I am eager to see what beautiful blessings life brings here in the years to come. I am eager to see what beautiful blessings she brings others—again, I know with certainty it will all be too wonderful and too immeasurable.
Chloe is the energy found between the pendulum bounce of two swinging pigtails. She is pure smiles and a holy, endless laugh that bubbles up into the air and runs through your brain and sticks with you a bit longer than all the rest. Her laugh is strung together by the Creator of the Heavens.
The way Chloe puzzle pieces words and thoughts together daily reminds me that this girl is earth shattering. Her brilliance is truly inconceivable. Her experience and interaction with the world is a dialogue I feel so privileged to observe. She is brave. Bold to try and to learn and to grow and to understand and to play part in all that unfolds around her. Her exuberance reminds me to fall in love with learning and exploring and discovering and living everyday.
Chloe has pluck; she has kindness; she has imagination; she has incredible growth behind her and in front of her.
Chloe is an expanding universe.
About Her Vision
All of my students have visual impairments. Chloe is totally blind. She has bilateral congenital anophthalmia. She is a braille reader, and relies on tactile information to participate in activities and interact with her environment. Chloe very efficiently uses all of her available senses to process and synthesize the information she gathers into clearer concepts and new understanding about the world she lives in.
About her Academic Skills
Chloe is working on so much right now! It is marvelous to see.
Reading: Chloe is always eager to listen to stories, and she easily follows plots with established concepts or familiar experiences. After the end of every story at circle time, we can always count on Chloe to answer our comprehension questions with ease. I would say that she has mastered nearly all of her pre-emergent literacy skills, and we are working on some higher order skills in braille class right now!
Braille: Chloe was the first kiddo of the preschooler group to make a major breakthroughs in their braille. She was the first kiddo to move from just touching braille to tracking lines. She was the first to progress from tracking lines to discriminating characters. Chloe can now read about 60-70% of her alphabet without difficulty! Let me try to recollect all of the characters she knows (with at least ~80% accuracy): A, B, C, D, E, G, H, L, M, N, O, P, S, T, U, V, W.
Currently in class we are working on more braille skills than reading letters alone. Chloe is working on reading aloud memorized rhymes and songs word by word. She is working on identifying the first letter of a word and then guessing what that word might be with a few extra clues. She is working on pretend play with braille as the object she acts out on. For instance, in one game, Chloe has to read a food aloud and ask her hungry alligator toy if it would like to eat what she is offering it. In another game, Chloe has to count how many animals are brailled on a notecard, then she puts the animals away in their toy house, in whatever room she wants. She then creates a small story about what those animals are doing there.
Writing: Braille writing can be a difficult skill to refine here in India, because of our limited resources --time being one of them. Chloe gets exposure to the Smart Brailler throughout the week and she has made incredible progress with it conceptually. Chloe understands that pressing on the keys creates the braille and the braille creates letters, words, sentences, a story. Chloe understands that different combinations of keystrokes creates specific characters and, though she is not perfect at recreating braille characters, she will approximate them in independent practice.
Chloe has also improved her fine motor skills (especially her finger isolation), hand strength, and tactile exploration through the use of the brailler.
Chloe has a great grasp of the different parts of the brailler and their function. She can easily locate and manipulate the keys. She can differentiate the left-side keys (dots 1,2,3) from the right-side keys (dots 4,5,6). She can also differentiate the spacebar! Chloe can go down a line when she hears the ding of the brailler. She easily moves the carriage back to the left, also, after completing a line of writing. She can scroll paper in and out. She can turn the smart brailler on and off. Really, there are no technical brailler skills that she hasn’t mastered!
I hope soon, that she’ll be able to write some basic letters of the alphabet!
Storytelling: This is another writing skill Chloe loves to practice. Chloe loves to recall stories of her day or week and tell you little bits about her experiences. She also creates stories herself about people, animals, anything, usually beginning with “Once upon a time…”
This is one of my favorite stories: “Once Upon a time there was a girl (we are working on telling girls and boys apart) named Ian (a boy that lives in Courage Teal). Ian is doing the trampoline. Ian is jumping on the trampoline. And Ian is jumping over the moon. Ian is feeling sad. She bumped her head on the moon. Oh, I’m so sorry, Ian.”
About her ECC Skills
The ECC (Expanded Core Curriculum) is something I will mention over and over again in my blogs, so here is a simple definition: The ECC embodies the skills individuals with visual impairments need to live independent lives, to successfully interact with the world around them, and to engage with the appropriate learning materials. Depending on the individual's level of vision, their ability to learn through observation is limited to hands-on, interactive instruction. For this reason, specialized educators, provide instruction in the following categories and their respective subsets of skills: (1) assistive technology, (2) compensatory skills, (3) career education, (4) recreation and leisure, (5) orientation and mobility, (6) sensory efficiency, (7) social skills, (8) self-determination, and (9) independent living skills.
There is so much to say about Chloe's developing skills in each of these areas, but for today, I will focus on two: Orientation and Mobility and Social Skills.
Orientation and Mobility: Orientation and Mobility (O&M) are the skills individuals with visual impairments use to understand and navigate the space around them. In my mind, gross motor skills are an extension of this category, and I surely like to brag on Chloe's gross motor skills. Chloe is our dancer, jumper, explorer extraordinaire! Chloe can run with physical guidance. She can also jump off of ledges, sometimes independently, though she prefers holding a hand in order to do so. Chloe sometimes gets herself into interesting situations, experimenting and trying out new ways to move in space, like sliding down the slide backwards. You name it, Chloe will try it and practice it and enjoy every minute of it!
Social Skills: Chloe is our social butterfly. Chloe loves, loves, loves people. Chloe’s heart and the unique way she shares it with the world continue to captivate me, time and time again. I love how she loves in ways that are perfectly her own.
First and foremost, Chloe is unbelievably attentive to the emotional needs of those around her. Whenever she hears a friend crying, especially her beloved Molly, she asks to go hug them, kiss them, lay her head on their chest and offer them comfort. A few days ago, Dinah was sick and Chloe hugged and kissed her back, trying her best to quiet her friend's tears.
Chloe is our super silly jokester. She has been experimenting with impressions lately, and sometimes she is quite spot-on. Chloe is also working on imaginative play skills and is motivated to talk with and care for imaginary friends, toys, stuffed animals, and so on.
Finally, Chloe is eager to be everyone's friend! Recently while out in the community with Nikki (one of her foster moms), Chloe became fast friends with a little boy playing on the same jungle-gym equipment. Several times a staff member of the play place tried usher the little boy away. He began crying because he really loved spending time with her. Hearing her new friend crying, she called out, "Oh, friend, why are you crying?" Just another example of this attentive angel doing her best to take care of the people she cares about, including her very fast, five-minute friends.
About Her Academic Journey
Chloe is not currently attending a local school here in India. Chloe was registered to begin school in June. She would have been attending a mainstream school, two days a week, with the support of our incredible teacher, Nimitha. Because of changes in staff and management, the school originally delayed her admittance until July before finally and ultimately denying her entry. The school created every excuse to deny her. In their rejection, they have demeaned and belittled her because of their ignorance and fear.
Chloe is more than they could ever possibly conceive, ever possibly imagine. She is more than the predetermined limitations they have wrongfully assigned her.
Without school, Chloe is still getting a wonderful variety of services. She goes to LV Prasad for braille instruction on Monday through Thursday. She also goes to voice and music lessons Wednesday afternoons. Also, on Wednesdays, she also goes to dance class!
At home, Chloe receives instruction in small group or one-on-one settings with four instructors: Nimitha, Elizabeth, Nikki, and myself. In these classes she works on a variety of developmental, conceptual, and academic skills. I am confident that we can provide her with valuable instruction. I am confident that we can build an enriching environment for her to thrive in, but there are so many lessons that a structured school setting would be able to provide that is difficult for us to replicate.
My Dreams for Her Future
This is the last and probably the must important piece of my blog. This is the stuff I keep closest to my heart. This is the stuff that churns in my mind in every, every, every spare moment. This is what I dream, pray, yearn for Chloe's--and every child's--life. There is not much I can say besides these three points: Family, Education, Independence.
I say these things over and over about my students, but I hope that their absolute significance is not lost in their repetition. I hope that these dreams will not become commonplace or overlooked no matter how often I utter them. I hope, rather, that our desire to see them fulfilled will become more resolute, more absolute, bigger, fierier, all-consuming.
This girl is a world-changer, hope-breather; she is a lionheart.
Thank you for reading!
I ask that you join me in prayer for these things, these wonderful wonderful things in her life. I also ask that you consider how you can be part of her life. Check out the links below to support Chloe!