Students not blind to the world around them


News staff writer

March 17, 2007

For the kids from the Washington State School for the Blind that made the trip to Teacup Lake Snow Park on Thursday, learning how to snowshoe did not appear too difficult.

They have, after all, already gone snowboarding, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and ice skating this winter.

On their trip to Teacup, the Vancouver, Wash., school’s grade school-to-high school aged students examined pelts from animals that are found in the woods surrounding the park, and then got the opportunity to strap on some snow shoes and go for a trek.

“The visually impaired needs hands-on experience,” Adrienne Stout, recreation director for the School for the Blind, said. “They have to get out and experience it and feel it.”

The goal of the school is to allow its students to achieve “total independence,” and excursions like that one are meant to encourage that, by giving opportunities to socially interact and have the some opportunities as people with full vision.

“Doing this, they can relate to people and carry on a conversation and know what they are talking about,” Stout said as Ranger Ron Kikel led a presentation allowing students the opportunity to feel the animal skins, learn about the environment, and hear what the animals sound like in the wild.

The students at the school typically spend the week on campus, and fly or are driven back to their home towns on the weekend.

During the week, Stout and the school’s instructors try to cram in as much extracurricular learning as possible, running a variety of trips and programs designed to get their students experience in the outside world.

As the presentation wound down, it was time for the group to slip on the snowshoes. Most everyone had never tried snowshoeing before, but that didn’t mean they wanted to take it slow.

“I like it,” Fred Ramirez said. “I’d rather be going faster like on cross country skis but it’s still fun.”

Even the instructors were sometimes pressed to keep up with the students.

“I have flipper feet!” exclaimed student Jacque Patching as teacher Lisa Hodge, serving as her sighted guide, tried to keep pace with her.

Others who had tried snowshoeing before enjoyed an activity that allowed them to motor through the deep but slowly melting slush with relative ease.

“I’ve been doing this for two years and they haven’t failed me yet,” Emily Opheihens said.

For Kikel, leading interactive presentations is nothing new, but trying to describe the animals and the scenery to pupils who could not see what he was talking about was a new, but rewarding experience.

“Every kid loves the environment and has appreciation for it,” he said. “This was a first time for us having sightless students. I hope they come back.”

Out on the trail the students and instructors quickly picked up the basic concepts and began moving faster along the track to continue the exploration.

After cresting a hill they, arrived at the turnoff for Lakeside loop. There they turned the corner and went out of sight, leaving it to the imagination what they would discover next.

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