Wednesday, July 30, 2014

It's a Way of LIFE

I love the summer time. It's not just about beach trips, summer nights and camp fires that make the summer awesome. It's two of my favorite programs, LIFE and Camp Abilities CT, that make the summer a total blast!

I learn a lot during these two programs. My students spend time with me and together we teach each other concepts from the Expanded Core Curriculum. The LIFE program is held at a college campus. Students come for about 5 days. We do work experience (thanks to our friends at Old Navy), have direct mobility instruction, TONS of ILS with me, an adventure to NYC and pizza. We always eat pizza at least once.

This year I thought it would be interesting if my students helped me write about LIFE. I asked a student that has attended several times and one that attended for the first time. I hope parents are reading this post. I have several parents who are nervous about sending their students to programs or worse, they send them to these expensive, intensive programs but when their children return home, they don't carry it on. That's the real problem: our kids get motivated but a major factor why they don't see success is because parental interference. Meet two of my students who attended LIFE and successfully implemented the skills they have acquired.

This is Gissel. She's been my student for years and has attended LIFE several times. She's a print reader whose central field is fading. I am so proud of her. I have watched her develop from a some-what shy, anxious girl into this confidant young woman. We've taken on challenges together (she learned how to do something she's always wanted to do with me), we have learned together and I have watched her take every lesson I have ever taught her to heart.

Emrah, from Old Navy, Dionna and Gissel at our our work experience day at Old Navy. 
Here's her thoughts:
LIFE as I Know It
Once upon a time, at a college two hours from where I live, I attended a week-long college prep program for students with vision impairments called LIFE. I was nervous, since I didn't know what to expect, and was new to the program, but I had a lot of fun and learned a lot of new, helpful skills that I was able to apply to my daily life. 

Now, four years later, after coming to this program four times, I still find myself learning new skills, refining previously learned skills, and overall benefitting from the program.

This year, our week at LIFE was packed with educational and fun activities that covered areas from job experience to public transportation. We learned how to plan a trip for a day in New York City and about disclosing our vision impairments to sighted people in a conversational manner.

Despite the fact that I have been coming to the LIFE program for years, there are always new techniques to pick up. I've always been afraid of traveling in the city because the layout seemed so confusing and the streets are very crowded. After working with our stellar mobility instructors, however, I was able to see the organized grid system of the streets of New York City, and when we stepped off that subway, I felt ready to take on the world and own those avenues!

LIFE is such a unique, diverse, and educational program that there is always something new to learn every time you go. We tackle new challenges and get exposure to new situations.

Aside from the changing program, new students always come along. The most beneficial part about coming to LIFE, and the reason it is so successful (aside from our amazing staff members who know how to teach us important skills in engaging ways) are the students. New students always come along, and even though I have come to LIFE many times, it's always those new students who can really teach an old timer like me new abilities from their personal experiences that really work. They aren't typical, out-of-the-book, run-of-the-mill, heard-it-a-million-times skills, but fresh new plans of action that I love being able to apply to my life.

LIFE is an amazing program with so much support and education, paired with a heavy dose of fun and ESP (energy, smiles, and personality), and no matter how many times you've been, there is always something new to learn. As a legally blind student, I will never know everything there is to know, but I can continuously improve and build on my skills. Even though I have been to the LIFE program many times, I keep coming back because I can't get enough of the supportive, positive, atmosphere and fresh, new feeling I get every single time.

Dionna at The Met in NYC during our LIFE program
And now meet Dionna, my newest student. Dionna is top-notch talent. She's successful in school, sports and with friends. The only thing missing was how to keep doing it all with her vision impairment. She decided to come to LIFE for the first time and basically entered ECC bootcamp with me. After the first five minutes of meeting her, I knew I had to recruit her for my intern program. She accepted and the rest is happily ever after! Here's a little from Dionna:
My first year with LIFE
I started LIFE for the first time this summer. I absolutely loved it, Since i am legally blind i thought i wouldn't be able to go away to college or do my desired profession. I basically felt as if i had limited options compared to sighted people. But let me tell you, this program has completely changed my outlook on things. I have a lot more confidence in myself now, i also feel more comfortable in my decisions, especially when it comes to going away for college, getting a job, and taking on whatever profession i wish. I gained life long tools that will help me throughout the rest of my life.

These residential intensive programs are the starting point to getting our kids closer to the quality of life parents want them to have. They are based on the Expanded Core Curriculum. The learning cannot stop at the conclusion of these programs. Parents, you must get familiar with what the programs really teach and how you can keep it going at home.

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