A Morning at VIPS

AddyHaileyOn a recent rainy Thursday, I spent the morning at Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS) to learn more about the education of blind and visually impaired children and how I as a community member can become more involved.

“What you’re seeing is only 10 percent of the community we serve,” affirms Heather Benson, director of development at VIPS. As the only agency of its kind in Kentucky and Indiana to provide early childhood education and intervention services to blind and visually impaired children from birth to 5 years old, VIPS provides emotional and educational support for the entire home in addition to offering preschool education. According to Benson, there are only five similar agencies across the U.S. providing comparable services to that age range, making the mission and vision of VIPS tremendously unique.

Braille BoyI begin with a tour of the facility. We enter the school in the main lobby with sparkling stars and warm lighting, where a lesson in letter-sealing and working with the postman from the post office is taking place. From here, I’m taken into a space called Kids Town where children are exposed to everyday life activities, errands and interactions. The town is comprised of a Chase Bank, Highland Cleaners, The Bakery at Sullivan and a little bedroom at the top of the stairs just to name a few features. VIPS educators provide exposure to these essential skills and daily activities in an accessible and safe manner. I notice some children moving around more than others. Benson informs me there are sighted children in attendance at this school known as community peers at VIPS. This is a tuition-based program and allows the blind and low-vision students and their community peers to learn and grow alongside each other, fostering a dynamic learning environment.

We move into the school portion and enter the sensory room – a place for exploration in a controlled and safe atmosphere. Children are able to experience different textures on the texture wall or experience beautiful shapes and colors. There are even large elaborate rocking chairs to sit in if a child is in need of a moment’s rest. A giant lava lamp resides in a corner, bubbling with beautiful red lava. This space serves a dual purpose of sensory exposure as well as providing a calming environment. It is characteristic of children who are blind or have low vision to physically move about more so in times of excitement, and the sensory room is a safe haven for when these types of feelings come about. Next door is the braille room. Like any language, it is important to start the learning process at a young age and at VIPS, this is part of their daily curriculum.

glasses girlWe move into the outdoor space and onto the playground, complete with padded floors and guard rails. Donations from UAW/Ford Motor and the Building Industry Association offer an orientation and mobility learning experience for the students. Starting out at UAW/Ford Mobility City, students learn how to safely cross the street and make their way to a destination point ending at The School House – a gift from the Building Industry Association. But the fun doesn’t end there! Benson takes us on a tour of the community gardening space where the children learn about different types of plants, how to garden, temperature, weather and so much more.

I conclude my time with a visit to a classroom where the students learn where different parts of their body are located through the construct of a song. Once the music began, the energy in the room skyrocketed as the children experienced learning through music – a regular component of their education. Using a beanbag, they learn the location of their knees, ears, stomach and head. In the corner, I witness a little boy learning to place different items on a shelf. A little girl who is blind chimes in at the end of activity and states, “That was a really pretty song.”

As VIPS state funding of $100,000 was recently removed entirely from the state budget, help is needed now more than ever. It was wonderful to spend the morning with the students and experience how this important organization positively impacts the blind and visually impaired children in our community. With locations in Louisville, Central Kentucky and Indiana, the outreach is vast, and to make it complete, VIPS is missing one thing: you. VT

By HOLLY GRIFFIT NEELD, The Voice-Tribune

To learn more about how you can provide support to VIPS or how to become a volunteer at any of their locations, please visit vips.org.

Photos courtesy of VIPS