by The Bell Academy Team
The NFB BELL Academy in Arizona kicked off on Memorial Day with twenty-two students. Students at all literacy levels were empowered to keep track of their daily schedules through the use of three large tactile and Brailled schedules for each group. These schedules were posted in the main community room where students started their day, ate lunch, and concluded each day. This allowed the students to take responsibility for their own schedules without having schedules to carry around.
Arizona’s NFB BELL Academy also introduced new toys, such as Barbie dolls, superhero figures, and Disney princess figures, and each toy came with its own miniature white cane and a pair of learning shades. The students enjoyed playing with toys using the tools they used at NFB BELL Academy. Older students met with young adult blind mentors during lunch to talk about their fears of going into middle school. This was a great opportunity for the older NFB BELL Academy students to really open up and share their fears about being a blind student in a public middle school where “being cool” is the new game. Mentors spoke with them about the importance of taking part in social activities at school, how to join clubs at school, how to make new friends, and how to be social when it’s much easier sometimes to stay secluded in the safety of home. Students and parents enjoyed this activity, and they have requested regular sessions each lunch time to talk more with mentors.
Arizona’s youngest participant this summer was three years old. He came to the program with parents and grandparents who were nervous about leaving their little boy. However, he soon teamed up with an older student in NFB BELL Academy, and they were inseparable.
The Arizona NFB BELL Academy incorporated dancing and worked on having students using their canes and shades to learn popular dances that they would take part in during a school dance. Students and staff alike enjoyed these activities even though many students gave the, “But I don’t dance,” excuse at first. When they realized that all the staff and students were dancing, it didn’t take long for them to get up on their feet and give the Cupid Shuffle a chance. They learned about the importance of giving new activities a try and how this can be tough when you are scared of looking silly but how being silly sometimes helps you find new friends. Students learned that it doesn’t matter what you can see, but what you can do—and the main part of that is the word “do.” If you don’t even try—you aren’t doing anything.
A local newspaper, the Record Searchlight, covered the Redding, California, NFB BELL Academy’s field trip to Turtle Bay Museum. <http://www.redding.com/news/local/blind-girls-learn-skills-at-turtle-bay-38a22093-eaf7-4437-e053-0100007fdb1c--388484271.html> (Note: one must complete a short survey to access this print article and video.)
The two students of this NFB BELL Academy learned Braille and nonvisual skills, but they also received much more. These students had never met other individuals who are blind, either peers or adults. Since the NFB BELL Academy ended, the students have kept in contact with each other and with their blind mentors.
The students of the San Bernardino NFB BELL Academy spent ten wonderful days engaging in hands-on experiential learning, including a trip to the San Bernardino County Museum. Each student also received an introduction to using the long white cane as well as instruction and multiple opportunities to use Braille.
Students at the Colorado Springs NFB BELL Academy took full advantage of the outdoor experiences in their area. In addition to rich instruction in Braille, cane travel, and other nonvisual instruction students received, they enjoyed a field trip to the Cave of the Winds and other field trips, where they went rock climbing with their blind peers and blind adult role models.
Westminster NFB BELL Academy students augmented their classroom learning with a field trip tour of the DoubleTree Hotel. On that trip, students and their blind mentors rode a city bus to a recreation center to go swimming.
Connecticut’s NFB BELL Academy provided its students an opportunity to practice nonvisual skills in an engaging, authentic day at the beach. Students enjoyed working with peers and learning from the blind adult role models.
Five students in grades two through five made up the Delaware NFB BELL Academy. Each day, they engaged in nonvisual skills in the areas of reading and writing Braille, independent cane travel, and daily living skills with their blind adult mentors. Students even worked on their academic schoolwork (Extended School Year—ESY—goals) at the NFB BELL Academy.
The Delaware NFB BELL Academy instituted an incentive program to encourage students to read Braille books each evening of the program. For each book taken home and returned read, they would receive a Braille Buck. While the students’ reading skills varied, each was motivated by the Braille Bucks incentive. At the end of the program, students used their Braille bucks to purchase Braille books and other items to take home and keep.
Students also enjoyed a field trip to a movie theater where they had the opportunity to enjoy a movie with audio description. Each student also used money skills learned at NFB BELL Academy to purchase the movie ticket, and each requested the necessary audio headset independently.
Students at the NFB BELL Academy in Washington, DC, took full advantage of their proximity to Smithsonian-affiliated museums. The Academy revolved around science. Learning shades were renamed “science goggles,” and students learned the principles of being a good scientist. They developed goals for the two weeks and celebrated the birthday of Dr. Abraham Nemeth (the blind mathematician who invented a code for blind people to do math and science.)
Later in the program, students visited the National Science Academy and engaged in accessible science experiments. Nevertheless, the first day’s first science experiment, the dissection of a Minion® piñata to find out what it had inside, was a big hit.
Four students kicked off the 2016 NFB BELL Academy season on May 23 in Albany, Georgia. They concentrated on building nonvisual skills and improving Braille reading speed and enjoyed the mentorship of blind adults. They grew in both skills and self-confidence.
Atlanta’s NFB BELL Academy provided twenty-two students many formal and informal learning opportunities. Field trips included: At Main Event Atlanta students bowled, did a low ropes course, engaged in social time during lunch, and some even enjoyed arcade games. On a sports day at Coan Recreation Center, students engaged in beep kickball, tandem biking, and adapted soccer with Columbus State University Professor Jeanine Wert, who specializes in adapted physical education for blind and low vision people; on another field trip, students enjoyed a mobility lesson using MARTA (Atlanta’s train system) to the Loews Hotel where they were greeted by the chef and his team. Students then received a tour of the kitchen and worked with the pastry chef making cookies. Students and mentors were treated to a wonderful family-style lunch where the students had the opportunity to practice table manners and etiquette. And students also traveled to Historic Fourth Ward Park Playground and Splashpad for lunch and a little recreation time.
Musician and steel pannist Paul Vogler visited the NFB BELL Academy in Atlanta one afternoon for music instruction. He brought all of his instruments for the students to explore and play. Bricks 4 Kidz, a LEGO-building organization came one morning to show the NFB BELL Academy students many ways to have fun with building LEGOs.
A local news station did a video segment on the Atlanta NFB BELL Academy; it is still available on their web page: <http://www.wsbtv.com/community/people-2-people/summer-camp-helps-blind-children-find-independence_20160620203651/353448743>
The Savannah Center for Blind and Low Vision hosted the Savannah NFB BELL Academy. Students concentrated on Braille reading and writing and expanding their skills in these areas.
Boise NFB BELL Academy students developed their Braille, cane travel, and nonvisual skills both in the classroom setting and in the Boise community. Students welcomed experts who came in to provide a dance class, a pottery class, and a drama improvisation class. Also, students were treated to a presentation which replicated bird calls and taught the students how to develop their listening skills in order to discern different birds’ calls.
A field trip to Babby Farms provided the Boise NFB BELL Academy students the opportunity to interact with exotic animals, including kangaroos, lemurs, sloths, and monkeys. Students also visited a fire station to explore the equipment and find out more about this important occupation from firefighters who serve the community. Students also visited the Talking Book Library and learned how to access these materials independently.
The rookie NFB BELL Academy site provided instruction in fundamental nonvisual skills and also provided students the opportunity to use tools which allowed them to draw nonvisually and independently.
The BELL Academy again got recognition from the local news affiliate; the segment is available for viewing here: <http://www.krem.com/mb/news/local/kootenai-county/coeur-dalene-hosts-first-area-camp-for-blind-children/291217264>.
Students at the Idaho Falls NFB BELL Academy enjoyed the Museum of Idaho where students touched revolutionary war relics. Students also explored an equestrian center and traveled by city bus to a restaurant for lunch. BYU Radio reported on the Idaho Falls NFB BELL Academy, both transcript and audio are available here: <http://byuidahoradio.org/academy-helps-blind-children-succeed-future>
Students at the NFB BELL Academy in Chicago embarked upon field trips to grocery stores for both scavenger hunts and for the purpose of purchasing needed groceries. They also traveled to a community park for a game of beep kickball. Students used the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) to visit Chicago’s Millennium Park to explore tactile art sculptures. Additionally, a trip to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum allowed students to interact with both live and preserved animals.
NFB BELL Academy students in Springfield engaged in community service activities on a field trip to a residential home for senior citizens. Students read to the residents and enjoyed craft time with them. Springfield provided daily training for parents of NFB BELL Academy students, including a visit to the state technology center, a discussion with an orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor, and an interview with a blind college student. The Springfield NFB BELL Academy celebrated the end of the program with a pizza picnic and games of beep kickball.
The first year of NFB BELL Academy in Indiana was packed with learning and fun. Students travelled to a local mall to work on cane travel, ordering at a restaurant, and using appropriate manners and behavior in public. On another field trip students went to a local McDonald's for lunch and an opportunity to explore the indoor play area. Students practiced their cane travel skills by traveling to a local park for recess on two occasions, and they learned how to play beep baseball from a local beep baseball team (which went on to win the Beep Baseball World Series later in the summer).
NFB BELL Academy students also participated in a music class led by a teacher of blind students and learned the basics of Music Braille. The NFB-NEWSLINE® presented the benefits of NFB-NEWSLINE® and how to use it. Students took a culminating field trip with their families to Monkey Joe's, a local indoor bounce park.
Iowa NFB BELL Academy students used nonvisual and cane travel techniques to walk to the Iowa Library for the Blind. There, the students learned about where their Braille books are housed and how to obtain those books themselves. Students also had the opportunity to tactually explore the library’s 3-D printer before observing the operation of the printer and feeling several figures produced by it. Students also enjoyed a trip to the Science Center of Iowa and had sack lunches there. Some were not comfortable traveling with the kids all the way to the science center, so we took a trip around the block on a different day so the students could practice their travel skills. The instruction, the laughter, and the times that mentors burst into song all came together to make an atmosphere of joy, compatibility, and learning that worked to create our success.
Students at the first year NFB BELL Academy in Kansas concentrated on fundamental skills: Braille reading and writing (in the new Braille Code, Unified English Braille), cane travel, and nonvisual skills. A nine-year-old learned, for the first time, how to pour from a pitcher into a cup, which provided her a new-found sense of independence and accomplishment. Students also practiced their nonvisual skills in new areas, including art. They also visited the Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita and enjoyed hands-on exploration of exhibits.
Kentucky hosted our smallest NFB BELL Academy this summer, providing instruction to one student. Kentucky exemplified our belief that one student needing blindness skill training is one student too many; every student is important and valued. Kentucky’s student formed close bonds with both of the blind mentors who ran the program. She practiced cane travel skills on stairs in the host facility, the American Printing House for the Blind, and visited the facility’s museum. She also learned to walk independently on sidewalks and learned how to cross streets safely without using vision on a field trip to a local convenience mart, where she purchased items for an afternoon snack.
Louisiana was the first to host a residential NFB BELL Academy, and they continue to grow bigger and better at their host site, the Louisiana Center for the Blind. This year’s fourteen students, teachers, and mentors got to know one another at an opening ceremony where they celebrated Louis Braille’s birthday with a water slide, a bounce house, a snow cone maker, a popcorn machine, a piñata, hula hoops, and much more. Field trips included horseback riding, rock climbing, swimming, and a Bayou visit (with barbeque, boating, fishing, ice cream making, and outdoor games). Students enjoyed an NFB BELL Academy Mardi Gras Parade put on by blind mentors. The Louisiana NFB BELL Academy also held a closing ceremony with an NFB BELL Academy Carnival, which included hands-on activities and games that families did together. These activities highlighted the skills students developed through the week.
A dozen students enjoyed learning in fun and unexpected ways at the oldest NFB BELL Academy site in Baltimore, Maryland. Students took trips to a public swimming pool (they walked using their canes and learning shades), the Jewish Museum of Maryland (where students explored a doctor theme), a trip for younger students to the Maryland Library for the Blind, a trip for older students to a restaurant where they got to order off of a Braille menu, and a trip with older students to a grocery store where they got to shop with a shopping assistant. The older students, in a group known as “BELLX” also produced a newspaper, The Blind BELL, which chronicled the activities of the Baltimore NFB BELL Academy.
Students at the NFB BELL Academy in Glenn Dale had daily opportunities to learn to read and write Braille and to engage in cane travel, including climbing and descending stairs around the large facility in which the program was housed. Glenn Dale students also traveled to the College Park Aviation Museum and later to an aquatic center.
Salisbury NFB BELL Academy students traveled to a local park for a picnic. They also toured a farmers’ market where they had the opportunity to pet farm animals and engage in a plant activity.
Another residential NFB BELL Academy was held on the campus of Mississippi State University in Starkville. One field trip included a swim at the campus pool. On another field trip, students went horseback riding at a local therapeutic horseback riding facility. There, they learned about different types of horses and how the program acquires them. At the end, students enjoyed feeding the horses.
The National Federation of the Blind of Missouri partnered with the Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments to provide two weeks of rich learning opportunities for seven NFB BELL Academy students. Scaffolding learning enrichment allowed students to build skills in the classroom which they would put to use on community field trips. For example, on a field trip to The Magic House (a St. Louis children’s museum), students used their orientation and mobility skills to travel independently on public transportation to the Museum. For lunch, students used their money identification skills to purchase their own lunches at McDonald’s. We are always blessed to discover something that we think is routine, but they think is new. This summer we had a student who did not know the joy of running, and we taught her the fun of doing this. We taught her not only how to run but the fun that can be found in competition. Our staff had that competition rekindled in ourselves when we decided that we were not content with the children being the only ones to enjoy running and competed against ourselves to see who could get down the rope and back the quickest.
In addition to learning Braille, cane travel, and other nonvisual skills during formal instructional time, the seven students who attended the NFB BELL Academy in Nebraska enjoyed a field trip to the Nebraska Commission for the Blind Orientation Center. There they learned about the center, prepared and ate lunch with center students and staff, and completed a scavenger hunt with students and staff as well as other commission staff. Additionally, Travis Bossard, co-writer of the Oskar and Klaus books, gave a presentation on how the books came about and his role in writing the books and producing the audio. The book series highlights the adventures of Oskar, a blind cat, as well as those of his less-adventurous, sighted brother cat, Klaus.
Each morning at the NFB BELL Academy in New Jersey, the students held meetings where each student reported something s/he did independently at home the night before and shared a future goal concerning what they wanted to do to become more independent. The Academy also hired a company called Bricks 4 Kidz to provide three sessions of LEGO® STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities where the children learned about and built a windmill, a paper crinkler, and a tornado. This was the first time the representative worked with blind children, but she was very enthusiastic about helping and interacting with our students. New Jersey NFB BELL Academy students also paired up with typically-developing preschoolers from the Puerto Rican Association for Human Development (PRAHD) summer program to mentor those students in beginning blindness skills lessons. Our students introduced their mentees to the Braillewriter and to Braille itself. Each sighted child received a card with his/her name written in Braille to take home.
The Big Apple welcomed NFB BELL Academy students with many rich learning opportunities, both in the classroom and on the town. Students visited the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library to learn about talking books, Arduino (a mini-computer: an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software), and tactile maps. Students also had the opportunity to explore the New York Hall of Science.
Baldwinsville NFB BELL Academy students traveled to a movie theater to watch Pete’s Dragon and learn how to use descriptive video technology. On another day, students visited Green Lake State Park and used their cane travel skills to engage in a fun hike. On this trip, students also learned about the features of the lake which cause it to be naturally green, and they enjoyed swimming and ice cream.
Seven NFB BELL Academy students in Lincolnton, North Carolina grew in their Braille, cane travel, and nonvisual skills throughout the two-week program. They put their new skills into practice on a visit to the Catawba Science Center and on a field trip to a local bowling alley.
Students at the Raleigh NFB BELL Academy formed strong bonds with one another and with their blind mentors during the program, which was held on the campus of the Governor Morehead School for the Blind.
On one field trip, the students employed their cane travel skills to cross streets on their way to and from Pullen Park, the first public park in the state of North Carolina. On another day, Raleigh NFB BELL Academy students visited the North Carolina Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, where they explored the Braille and audio books which provide access to books for blind individuals throughout the state.
The NFB BELL Academy of Ohio hosted its first residential academy this summer. Students and mentors enjoyed new activities and learned many daily living skills. Students gained the skills necessary to become responsible including self-care activities, especially those needed at bedtime and mornings. In some ways the Ohio NFB BELL Academy became a mini-NFB training center. Students also enjoyed recreational activities such as a music night, swimming, and goal ball, and field trips, including a walk to an ice cream store, a tour of the American Whistle Corporation factory, and a trip to McDonalds for lunch one day.
The Sooner State welcomed back NFB BELL Academy students with great instruction and learning opportunities. Kimberly Berry from ABLE Tech spent a day at the Oklahoma NFB BELL Academy and gave one-on-one demonstrations of several devices including refreshable Braille displays, iPads, accessible money readers, accessible personal digital assistants (also called notetakers), and a talking Perkins Braillewriter. The statewide Assistive Technology (AT) Act Program provides outreach, information, and assistance services, and training on various AT topics, as well as collaborates with state and local agencies and organizations to enhance the understanding and access to AT.
On a field trip to Andy Alligator's Fun Park, students played games, rode rides such as bumper cars, go karts, etc. They also enjoyed a pizza party with blind peers and adult mentors at the fun park. On another field trip, students visited the Oklahoma Library for the Blind where they toured the library, learned about services, explored the recording studio, and had a cookout with library staff.
NFB BELL Academy students in Oregon had a fun and rewarding time, working with great blind mentors and learning Braille and positive attitudes about blindness. Students also visited the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, where they explored the exhibits with the confidence and independence they learned at the Oregon NFB BELL Academy.
At the veteran Philadelphia NFB BELL Academy, both returning and new NFB BELL Academy students grew in skills and confidence with regard to their Braille reading and writing, cane travel, and other nonvisual skills. Philadelphia NFB BELL Academy students visited a museum and a park with a playground. They also enjoyed a program provided by the Settlement Music School.
The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which includes the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at its Baum Boulevard branch, served as host to the first year NFB BELL Academy in Pittsburgh. In addition to intensive Braille and cane travel instruction, students took field trips to a local science center and had an ice cream social/pool party.
Students at the NFB BELL Academy in Providence engaged in nonstop learning fun. The program kicked off with piñatas, cupcakes, Braille yoga, and more. Later, students put their skills to work in a fun cane scavenger hunt. Students donned their learning shades and used their canes to locate objects in their path. One student managed to find twenty-one items, including chairs, books, big and small boxes, playdough, and even an orange.
How do you make writing fun? At the Providence NFB BELL Academy you get the students to write rhyming poems. One student who did not know any Braille before attending the Providence NFB BELL Academy proudly shared his Brailled poems with his peers and mentors.
Students also wore their learning shades and used their long white canes while playing sardines, practicing pouring, coloring, and walking to the playground in the rain. On a field trip to the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab at the Rhode Island School of Design, students took the opportunity to feel sea shells, pine cones, bones, mushrooms, seeds, and even a live snake.
Given that it is a presidential election year, it is quite appropriate that the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s office allowed NFB BELL Academy students to check out the accessible voting machine that allows blind people to vote privately and independently. Students voted for their favorite ice cream flavor (had to write in "coffee") and learned a great deal about the voting process thanks to our friend Rob in the office of the secretary of state.
The veteran South Carolina NFB BELL Academy provided two weeks of individualized learning experiences for students. Cane travel was emphasized through the theme, “Anywhere and Everywhere.” Students gained an increasing awareness of travel, white cane travel, car travel, and bus, train, and plane travel on the local, regional, and national levels. Mentors set up chairs and took students on imaginary train and airplane trips. Students received an introduction to tactile maps and used cardinal directions in the classroom. Additionally, South Carolina Artist-in-Residence Kimberly Roberts provided students individual steel drum instruction as well as a performance.
Students at the Memphis NFB BELL Academy learned Braille, how to use their canes for independent travel, and explored nonvisual skills such as identifying different objects, money, etc. They also enjoyed recreational activities such as kickball and Frisbee, each with accessible, beeping sports equipment. Members from the Memphis Symphony Orchestra demonstrated telling a story through music. Their story focused upon a young man exploring the galaxy. Through the music, Memphis NFB BELL Academy students explored Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. The music detailed both the exciting adventures and scary moments of his journey. A community field trip involved eating lunch at McAlister's Deli and taking in an audio-described version of the movie Finding Dory at the Paradiso Theater.
The National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee hosted its first residential NFB BELL Academy on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. Students engaged in classroom and daily living skill development throughout the program. Students experienced a scavenger hunt in the local grocery store. Each group of students received a shopping list of three items that they had to identify and bring to the teacher. In this activity, students utilized their Braille skills to read the list of items, their cane travel skills, and their tactile and nonvisual skills to identify items. We also partnered with our local symphony to provide a lesson on how music can convey a story.
Houston NFB BELL Academy students enjoyed varied Braille, cane travel, and nonvisual skill learning experiences. Houston students also visited a local fire station and explored the equipment while learning about the practices and protocols used by their local fire departments.
Students at the Laredo NFB BELL Academy were on the move. On the field trip to the Lamar Bruni Vergara Planetarium in Laredo, students learned about the relative size and scale of our solar system using grains of sand. On another trip, students hopped ‘til they dropped at a local trampoline park.
NFB BELL Academy students in San Antonio augmented their learning with accessible games, such as “For Sale,” which was provided by accessible game maker 64 Oz. Games. 64 Oz. Games founder Richard Gibbs noted, “They did much better than some adults on their first play.” Students also attended a beep baseball demonstration.
Utah NFB BELL Academy students augmented their Braille, cane travel, and nonvisual skills with innovative, accessible recreational activities. Indoor field hockey took place with hockey sticks made from long pool noodles and a sound-making beach ball. Students had a lot of fun and really had to learn to listen for the ball. Students also participated in two field trips including a visit to a park and a hands-on experience at the Leonardo Museum in Salt Lake City.
On graduation day the students decided to plan and present a talent show for their parents. Performances included dancing, singing, and a magic show. This program was completely planned and organized by the students, and everyone had a great time.