October 22, 2014

Jefferson Elementary School in the Allentown School District stands one block away from the Center for Vision loss. Thousands of students have walked through the hallways, played in the gymnasium and been exposed to life-long learning here over the past 100 plus years of the school’s existence. Each fall, school administrators invite local businesses to attend an Annual Breakfast where they share information about the school’s needs and challenges and encourage the participants to become one of the school’s Community Partner of the Month.

This September, Dawn Sellers, Center for Vision Loss’s Manager of Community Outreach and Special Projects, attended that Annual Breakfast. As part of her duties, Dawn provides free vision screenings for the children at Jefferson’s kindergarten registrations. This year, she also signed Center for Vision Loss up as the September Community Partner of the Month. When the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind encouraged all of its member agencies to consider doing a special project for White Cane Day on October 15, Dawn immediately contacted Renee Mosser, assistant principal, to find out if she would be interested in having Center for Vision Loss talk to the students about blindness and white cane awareness as part of their studies about the importance of respecting people who are different from them. Mrs. Mosser loved the idea and told Dawn that her audience would be the winning classrooms of a “best behaved classroom” challenge among the 4th and 5th grade classes.

Dawn consulted with Rita Lang, the Center for Vision Loss’s Manager of Innovative Programing, who herself is visually impaired. Together they decided to invite two agency customers, Jeff Gerhard and Dianne Michels, to join them in the school presentations on September 22 and September 29, 2014. The children discovered that this year marked the 55th anniversary of the White Cane Law which celebrates the White Cane as a symbol of a blind or visually impaired person’s ability to achieve a full and independent life. Both Jeff and Dianne also brought their guide dogs. Jeff stressed the importance of not distracting a guide dog because they are working. He also noted that the white cane is an obstacle finder while a dog is an obstacle avoider. Dianne commented that she chooses to use a guide dog rather than a white cane because she likes to walk faster and feel more independent. Rita, who strictly uses a white cane, talked about orientation and mobility and learning to read Braille. The students particularly loved the fact that Rita attended Jefferson as a student!

The group then asked the children to close their eyes and imagine standing on the sidewalk in front of their home when it was time to go to school. Which way should they turn? How many streets must they cross? Are there traffic lights or stop signs at the intersections? Would they hear a car coming? Are the streets busy? Could they find their classroom in the school? Would they feel frightened or disoriented in a crowded hallway? The final question was how many doorways do you pass when you go to the lavatory? Not many children got it right!

the culmination of the White Cane Day project was a poster contest. The children were invited to answer the question “When I see a person with a white cane it means…? and then draw a picture to depict what they had learned.

Forty students took up the challenge. Center for Vision Loss staff reviewed all the colorful and creative entries. On October 21, 2014, Dawn, Rita and Executive Director Doug Yingling visited the winners’ classrooms with Mrs. Mosser. They presented the top 6 artists with a prize package that included a Center for Vision Loss Dr. Optical Coloring Book, activity calendar, construction paper, a paint box, crayons and trivia game cards. The rest of the children who participated in the contest received a box of crayons.

In the eyes of our agency, however, all of the children who took part in this project were winners. They learned about vision loss and the importance of understanding and sensitivity in dealing with people who are not like themselves for whatever reason. We hope that our White Cane Day Project can continue next year at Jefferson School and perhaps spread to other schools, as well.

Ramon, 9, shows his entry in the White Cane Day Poster Project.

Mrs. Mosser (l) and Dawn Sellers (r) get ready to present the White Cane Day poster artists with their prizes.

Nashalie, 9, shows off her poster for White Cane Day.

Atiyanah, 9, proudly holds her White Cane poster.

Left to right: Alexis, 11; Leah, 10; and Yaxlei, 10 hold their posters for White Cane Day.

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