HKSB in the Media
Kids’ Touch Of Class: Helen Keller Preschool Is Feast for Senses
New York Daily News
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
by Tanyanika Samuels
When it was his turn, little Rory Parmar plopped down on the floor next to his teacher and reached out for the golden-haired Labrador lying in front of them.
Taking his hand in hers, teacher Annamarie Kaplon swept Rory’s tiny palms across the guide dog’s back.
“Feel how soft he is?” Kaplon said.
“Yeah, he’s soft,” said Rory, giggling.
The pet-therapy class was a good start to the new school year for pre-schoolers at Helen Keller Services for the Blind in downtown Brooklyn.
“Most kids learn through seeing. But for children with visual impairments, you have to make things very real for them,” said Samuel Morgan, principal of the agency’s Children’s Learning Center.
The preschool program, started in the 1980s, has 30 children mostly from Brooklyn and Queens. The classes are geared toward youngsters ages 3 to 5 who are partially or completely blind. Some of the children also are physically handicapped.
In many ways, the program mirrors a typical pre-school. Students learn basic reading and writing, but with added techniques to help their understanding.
Classes are kept small – seven or fewer to one teacher and two assistants. Speech, occupational and physical therapists are also on hand, as is a full-time nurse.
“We’re getting them used to being in school, so that when they go to (another) school program, they’ll be ready to learn,” Morgan said.
Some students will go on to mainstream schools, while others will have to stay in specialized programs. By the time students leave the preschool program, the goal is they will know how to take care of themselves.
“We want them to be as independent as possible,” Morgan said.
In another classroom, a small group of youngsters was learning the alphabet. Sitting at a large desk with his classmates, 3-year old Angel Jean was hunched over a picture of an apple, coloring feverishly in bright red crayon.
The edges of the apple were outlined in overlapping staples, giving it extra dimension so that he could feel its shape.
When Angel was finished coloring, teacher Irina Kocherova held up a picture of the letter A.
“Do you know what A stands for?” she asked.
“A is for Angel,” the bespectacled boy said.
“And do you know what else?” Kocherova asked again.
“A is for apple,” Angel said.
“Very good,” the teacher said.
Angel smiled broadly and threw his hands into the air.
“Yeah! I did it,” he cheered, then congratulated himself with a round of applause.