Future Reflections        Winter 2012

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Saturday School Isn't for Saturday Anymore

Curtis Chong with his cane stands behind Iowa President Michael Barber as Mike teaches a junior high student to grill a hamburger.

by Peggy Chong

From the Editor: A number of parents' chapters around the country have started Saturday School programs to help blind children build confidence and enhance their skills. In this article Peggy Chong explains how the Saturday School in Iowa has grown and evolved over the years.

The jingle of a popular television commercial used to tell us that Friday wasn't Friday anymore. Well, Saturday isn't Saturday anymore in Iowa. Saturday School will be held on the best day for our families, no matter where it falls in the course of the week. And our kids can still say, "and I helped."

For many years the Iowa Parents of Blind Children and members of the Des Moines Chapter of the NFB of Iowa have worked together on a Saturday School (SS) program in Des Moines. Once a month we helped to reinforce blindness skills such as cane travel and Braille. But most importantly, our blind volunteers showed the children and their families how valuable the basic skills of blindness really are. Our blind role models have demonstrated that proficiency in Braille, cane travel, and other skills is essential for success. At the meetings the parents met separately while the kids had their monthly activities. They didn't have much chance to get to know the volunteers who worked with their children.

Our goal is to help our blind children participate in every aspect of school, church, and community life. During the past year we found it harder and harder to work Saturday School into the complicated schedules of our kids and their families. We did not want to discourage participation in outside activities, yet we know that the confidence we build in Saturday School has helped make that participation possible.

By now the young children we met in our early days have grown into tweens, and many of them will be entering the teen years this season. Yet SS continues to grow. Recently several children in kindergarten and first grade have joined us. Some of the children are just starting to learn Braille; others are expert readers who have placed in the Braille Challenge competition at the Braille Institute in California. Faced with a growing shortage of volunteers, we found we could not hold multiple classes in our two-hour window. What were we to do?

This year we decided to try out a new format. Parents and children, including sighted siblings, will meet together and partake in the day's activities. We meet once a month, but at a variety of locations and not always on Saturday. We are introducing the SS families to successful blind adults at their homes and workplaces. Everyone will take part in the demonstrations and discussions.

Michael Barber explains grilling to six school children.

We held our first class on Sunday, September 11, 2011, at the home of the president of the Iowa Parents Division, Carrie Thompson, and her husband, Brice. We focused on nonvisual ways to grill a hamburger. Six families participated, for a total of thirty-two people present. NFB of Iowa President Michael Barber was our volunteer griller and teacher. Mike told the children and parents that he would have loved to have learned to grill much earlier in life. He explained how he learned that a blind person can grill from Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.

After a short introduction on the techniques he uses as a blind person, Mike invited the children to give grilling a try. One at a time he had each child place a hamburger on the hot grill, as parents and other family members looked on. Each child had to find an open spot on the grill surface and place the hamburger properly. Some of us thought to excuse our five-year-old young man, but he was not to be left out. After we found a stool for him to stand on, he took his turn learning to put a hamburger on the grill.

We then talked about how to find the meat to turn it over and how to tell when it is done. Other blind adults shared some of their tips and tricks for grilling. Then it was time to eat our hamburgers and hot dogs along with a fantastic potluck lunch.

After lunch the families held a short meeting to discuss activities for the rest of the year. For October we planned a lunch at Billy Joe's Lounge in West Des Moines. The owner, Al Bickel, will tell the children and their families how he uses his blindness skills every day to operate his place of business. In November a blind vendor is going to talk about how he operates his own business. He will open up the vending machines and show the kids how they operate. Some of our kids are really looking forward to that! Our holiday party will be at the home of a blind couple, both working and maintaining a beautiful house in the suburbs.

Our little six-year-old did not take part in the actual grilling, as we all thought she was a bit too young. She is still "grilling" Oreos at home. Her family learned a lot at that first meeting of this season. In years to come they will stand beside her, our little princess, when the world tries to tell her that she cannot do things because she is blind.

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