New York Institute Visit

Trip Start Jul 19, 2014
Trip End Aug 16, 2014

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Flag of United States  , New York
Saturday, August 2, 2014

Another great visit to another great school. The Bronx has a certain reputation. Some of it deserved, some not so. In the middle of this slightly run down urban area is the beautiful campus of the New York Institute for Special Education (NYISE). The campus has over 170 students during the school year and runs a number of programmes. The programme I wanted to see was the Schermerhorn Programme, which is especially for young people with Visual Impairments. I also wanted to spend some time with the senior leaders.

As with every other aspects of my trip so far, everyone was wonderfully generous of their time and their insight. The summer programme runs through until mid August. Much of the work is around independence but also core curriculum areas. Some of their young people are functioning at a very high level, but as with the UK and other US colleagues I have met on my travels, they are experiencing a more mixed intake recently of young people who are multiply disabled or have lower levels of cognition.

Despite this one thing that struck me was the high level of expectation placed on all of their young people to learn Braille. Even those with lower cognitive function were brailling and doing so effectively. I think one thing that was particularly effective is that if a young person is using a braille machine they use it for every lesson, so that they repeat the actions and embed the learning.

The school are also highly committed to supporting parents practically and emotionally. One quote that sticks in my mind is from Margharite the vice-principal who said "one of the things we have to help our families with is learning when to sit on their hands.". I get that, some of our families and colleagues at times, struggle with the fear of failure. The fear that a young person is doing it wrong or about to do it wrong. Sometimes we have to remind each other to allow our young people to fail, as trial and error are important learning experiences.

One thing that is noticeable here is that schools are less risk averse, they accept that risk is part of life and learning. I observed a mobility session in the community. The young lady Yuwana was 15 and being taken with her cane into the middle of the Bronx to buy earphones for her new MP3 player. I would have struggled with the session if I had little vision, the noise, the business of the roads, the trains going overhead etc. I would have struggled even more at the Mobility trainer, with the danger at every turn, but Gail was patient, kept her distance when needed and very much demonstrated the 'sitting on your hands' philosophy of NYISE.

One of my favourite sessions was a technology lesson for 5 & 6 year olds, learning to use a 'daisy player'/ CD player. It was run as a name that tune type game, of children's TV themes, the class were gripped and broke out into song several times.

My takeaways from NYISE are...

Do we over correct our young people?

Do we do enough to support our families?

Do we use enough student interest subject matter in our curriculum?

I also offered to bring Oauni back in my case as he was possibly the cutest kid ice ever heard sing.....
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