JERSEY CITY, NJ — The past few weeks have been challenging for school teacher Lauren Marron, to say the least.
She – like many educators across the country – has been assigned the demanding task of teaching remotely. One feature makes her job more difficult: her students are blind.
“They have a range of visual impairments, so anywhere from low vision that they’re reading prints so they would read large prints or with magnifiers to students who are totally blind with no vision,” Marron explained.
The students attend Saint Joseph’s School for the Blind in Jersey City, a private school that’s been around for over a century. It serves students with visual impairments and multiple disabilities from ages 3 through 21.
Teaching in the COVID-19 era has denied them the vital one-on-one support and interaction that’s allowed them to thrive.
“It’s definitely overwhelming,” Marron said. “I am a very hands-on teacher, so the fact that I can’t actually go through the screen is very tough for me.”
According to St. Joseph’s Executive Director David Feinhals, while the transition was challenging, it was achievable. Remote learning at the school currently has a manageable flow, which he credits to advances in innovation.
“We would’ve been sending packets home in braille and large print and that would be about it, so that technology makes it so it’s as close to being at the school as possible,” he said.
Electronic brailers synced to iPads allow the students to participate in class activities over video conferencing. Having one has been a game changer for students such as 11-year-old Gael Lopez who is blind with light perception.
“It’s changed my life,” Lopez told PIX11. “I could read, I could write, I can navigate through apps, I could turn the page when I need to.”
The small yet significant successes in the digital classroom are allowing special needs students to stay afloat for now. Some say the current teaching model is not sustainable – on any level – especially if schools are still not open come fall.
“I personally think this won’t work forever,” Marron said. “I’m itching to get back into the classroom and be with the students so if I have to wear a hazmat suit to work with these kids one-on-one, I will.
”If schools in New Jersey do not open back up in the fall, administrators at St. Joseph’s say they are prepared. Like many school officials, the universal concern for students is that they will lose out on social interaction, which takes a toll especially when you have a disability.
Learn more about St. Joseph’s School For The Blind by visiting their website.https://www.schoolfortheblind.org/