Monday, May 28, 2018

Study Abroad ECC Australia

A study abroad program based on the Expanded Core Curriculum
I am so excited to share this post with everyone because this is all about Study Abroad ECC Australia! This has easily been added to my top 5 education experiences. I almost don't even know where to start. Just kidding! I will start at the beginning. The beginning is gratitude to my school, the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, for supporting this idea! Two years ago I led us on an exchange program with Camp Abilities Ireland and that kicked off our study abroad program. I learned that Australia also has a recognized Expanded Core Curriculum and started researching schools. And now we had a study abroad location: Australia! 
We partnered with RIDBC Sydney and SA School for the Blind (SASVI) in Adelaide. 
It was critical to us that our program was a true education endeavor from start to finish. Students had to apply for the program based on a college application. After a review committee used a rubric, scored the essays and selected the students, we were in business!

students with vision impairments pose for a group picture with art
We spent the next 2.5 months together in an Expanded Core Curriculum bootcamp! The entire study abroad program was based on the ECC--my dream scenario :) Each week students completed projects from transportation to recreation and leisure. We used distance education, technology and on campus sessions for our work. One of my favorite instruction tools was using some of my former students as mentors. These former students are all domestic and international travelers. We had Zoom sessions (like Skype) and students asked questions and listened intently to advice from mentors. 
 Here are some of our examples of lessons that we did in preparation for traveling to Australia:

  • On campus session. Students had to work with their mobility instructors and themselves to coordinate traveling to campus as a group. No parents could provide transportation to campus.
  • Financial Academy. They also had to be enrolled in our distance education financial academy. Coursework went beyond budgeting but also covered accessibility for banks, where they want to live and the real world budgeting. 
  • Fundraising and coordinating. Students organized a variety show to help support their financial needs. They were in charge of coordinating, entertainment and ticket sales. 
  • Transition. We spent a lot of time focusing on skills (for right now) that would be needed later in adulthood. We used the Transition Skills Competency Checklist.
  • Weekly ECC in the real world projects. The main goal of the program was to help students see how the ECC is every where in their daily life. They learned all the skills that comprise the ECC. It was more in depth than just saying "independent living skills". They could list skill after skill that were included in the ILS section. 
  • Communication & presentation. They developed their public speaking skills for sure! The students were responsible for all presentations. They gave ECC presentations at schools, with Aussie students and teachers. They will forever remember all the areas of the ECC!

teacher holding a koala

There are few experiences these days that teachers can really feel like they are doing it right. This was my experience. We often write IEP goals, do lessons, camps, etc. but it's tough to see it all through. For the entire program I was able to "see it all through". It was fantastic to teach, coach, model and then watch them not only implement it but to get it in the marrow of their bones. These super six students learned to see how the ECC is part of everything they do and how it is the most important part of their education.
t shirt that reads: And then I learned that adventure was the best way to learn

Sydney Opera House
 What else besides the Expanded Core Curriculum did we do? The ECC was the most important objective of our instruction. However, in order to show how important it is, it needs to be taught through meaningful experiences.

Here are some of our adventures:

  • Touch tour of the Sydney Opera House. We had a special tour with a lots of hands on! The tour guide even brought out a small replica of the opera house. We got to get hands on and go back stage and see the sets, one of my students had the opportunity to sing and we got to learn so much about the famous opera house. 
  • Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb. This was an unforgettable experience! We suited up and climbed the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge. Many of our students had very limited vision but we were still able to do so much on the bridge climb. We divided into small groups and got hands on and ears on with the climb. 
  • Sports, recreation & leisure. We had a variety of different recreation activities that were a blast! Most notably, we learned how to play a variety of sports that were accessible for people with vision impairments. We loved learning how to play blind cricket and Australian Rules Football. 
  • Australian Rules Football match. This one needed its own line because this was another unforgettable experience! We got to get on the field and high five the players as they came out. We had never seen this before so we loved learning the game. Thanks to our friends at SASVI who taught us how to play. 
  • Our koala cuddle. We loved visiting the Australian wildlife parks and learning about all the different native Australian animals but our favorite was the opportunity to hold a koala!

student playing blind cricket

group of students with vision impairments at an Australian rules football game

one male and one female student holding an Australian rules football game ball
The students had lessons on everything in the ECC (are you sick of me saying that?) especially in transportation situations that they don't always encounter. We did the traditional bus lessons but we also did lessons for taking a ferry, taxi/Uber, train and finding our way all over Sydney! That was no small feat as there is a ton of construction in Sydney.

The best part is that this isn't our only program. We are so excited to continue our Study Abroad programs! It truly has become one of my most treasured teaching experiences.
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