"I'M GLAD YOU ASKED!"
"Who does the South Dakota School for Blind and Visually Impaired serve?"
The mission of the SDSBVI is to educate children who are blind, visually impaired, or deaf-blind. This is done through programs available on the campus in Aberdeen and through outreach consultant services statewide.
"How many students do you have?"
The SDSBVI serves approximately 200 students each year. The Outreach Vision Consultants and Transition Specialist work with students who are enrolled in local public and parochial schools. Consultants also work with families of preschool children and those served in the Birth to Three Early Intervention Program. Students are served on campus when their educational needs cannot be appropriately met in the local school district. Many of these students come for short-term placements to learn specific skills.
Students also come to the campus for evaluations given by our team of specialists trained in visual impairment. These evaluations are done by our staff at no cost to local school districts or families. The evaluations usually last 1-3 days and provide information which helps the team plan for the student's educational program. The primary emphasis is determining the impact of the child’s vision loss and making educational recommendations. Each evaluation begins with a current eye evaluation done by a medical eye care specialist and then our Low Vision Specialist and the team recommend appropriate classroom accommodations.
"How many teachers and staff do you have at the school?"
There are 6 classroom teachers, a Speech Language Pathologist, an Adaptive Physical Education Teacher, 2 Orientation and Mobility Specialists, a Librarian, a Counselor, a Technology Specialist, and 4 Instructional Assistants. We have 5 full-time Outreach Vision Consultants, a Low Vision Specialist, and a Transition Specialist.
The Residential Program has certified childcare workers who work evenings and weekends. In addition, there are registered nurses, kitchen, maintenance, office, and administrative staff for a total of 45 FTE.
"What kind of training do teachers have?"
All teachers are state certified; most are dual certified in both elementary or secondary education and special education. Classroom teachers and Outreach Vision Consultants all have state endorsements in the education of the visually impaired. Ten teachers have Master’s degrees; one has a doctorate. Our Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists ® and Certified Low Vision Therapists® have advanced professional certification from the Academy for the Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Educational Professionals.
"Is the SDSBVI accredited?"
The SDSBVI meets the state requirements for a special education program and has been state accredited since 1935. Maintaining these accreditations requires regular self-study, on-site evaluations by outside reviewers, and school improvement plans.
"Do the students stay at the school all year around?"
We have a regular nine-month school year. In the summer we have a six-week summer program that emphasizes the Expanded Core Curriculum or “skills of blindness”, including orientation and mobility, assistive technology, daily living skills, and social/recreational opportunities. Participation in the summer program is determined by each child’s IEP or 504 team.
"Do all the students live there?"
Some students are day students; they live in or near Aberdeen and go home after school each day. Some students stay in the dorms during the week and go home on weekends. All students go home at least once a month for a long weekend.
"Are all the students blind?"
All the students served by the SDSBVI have vision loss that impacts their education. Some have no usable vision; others can use their vision for some tasks. Some students have additional disabilities.
"Do the students do regular school work?"
The SDSBVI offers a regular K-12 curriculum as well as emphasis on the Expanded Core Curriculum of Blindness – Braille, Orientation and Mobility, Social Skills, Communication, Daily Living Skills, Assistive Technology, Sensory Efficiency, Self-Advocacy, Vocational Preparation, and Recreation and Leisure. For some students the curriculum focuses on functional skills that will lead to more independent living and employment. Each student has his/her own Individual Education Plan designed to meet his/her needs.
"Do the students do things in the Aberdeen community?"
Students can take classes in the public or parochial schools. The SDSBVI includes community-based activities to enhance academic coursework, social/recreational opportunities, and mobility training. Students may take part in SPURS therapeutic riding, swimming, and various Aberdeen Parks and Recreation programs. Additional options include scouting, church activities, and other organized groups. Older students often have part-time jobs in the community to develop work skills and gain job experience.
"Who governs the school?"
The SDSBVI has been governed by the South Dakota Board of Regents since 1945.
"What does it cost to go to SDSBVI?"
South Dakota students are served at no charge to local schools districts or families. Our school is funded by a general fund appropriation. Out-of-state students can be served, if space is available. The South Dakota Board of Regents establishes the rates for out-of-state tuition and room and board on an annual basis. Local school districts are responsible for transportation and any services required by the IEP or 504 not done by SDSBVI personnel.
"What's different about educating children who are blind?"
Students who are blind or visually impaired (like the sighted student) need access to all the learning materials used in the classroom and experiences in the community. Because they cannot rely on "incidental learning" or watching others, it is also necessary to provide direct experiences and concept development. Students need to learn the "skills of blindness" such as mobility, Braille, daily living, sensory, social, assistive technology, advocacy, leisure/recreational, and career education to prepare them for independence.
"What is Braille?"
Braille is a system for reading and writing which uses raised dots to represent letters and numbers. It has been called an "elegant" medium. Like reading print, reading Braille requires effort and practice, but can be learned by both children and adults. Students who use computers may use a Braille display instead of a monitor.
"What is Orientation and Mobility?"
“Orientation” is understanding one’s relationship to the environment. “Mobility” refers to the skills required to move from one place to another independently and safely. Independent mobility makes it possible for blind people to travel to work and take part in community activities. Orientation & Mobility (O&M) is taught by Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists ® who have completed a university program and are nationally certified.
"What local organizations are involved with the school?"
The Aberdeen Lions and Lioness Clubs have been actively involved with the school since the early 1960s. They host an annual "back-to-school" picnic and Christmas party. They also make annual donations to support special activities or student needs.
The South Dakota Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired uses donations to provide low vision aids, recreational opportunities, and meet emergency needs of blind, deaf-blind, and visually impaired students statewide. The Foundation has supported recreational activities such as ski trips, educational materials for the Outreach Vision Consultants, magnifiers for the Low Vision Program, school field trips, and parent group activities. The Foundation also publishes the school’s newspaper, The Pioneer.
"Does the SDSBVI get involved with other groups?"
The SDSBVI works cooperatively with a number of other organizations and agencies. The Transition Specialist position is a joint effort with the Service to the Blind and Visually Impaired focusing on a student’s transition from school to employment. Under an interagency agreement with the Office of Special Education, we work on initiatives that provide information to parents and school districts and coordinate services to blind, visually impaired, and deaf-blind children.
Locally, we participate in the Mayor's Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities, Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce, and Aberdeen Parks and Recreation. We are members of the statewide Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, School Administrators of South Dakota, South Dakota Association for the Blind, and National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota. We work closely with Service to the Blind and Visually Impaired and the South Dakota Parent Connection. Nationally, we are members of the Council of Schools for the Blind, Principals of Schools for the Blind, National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National Association for Parents of the Visually Impaired. We also work with the state universities and private agencies.
"What kinds of jobs can blind people do?"
Just about anything! Given the opportunity for education and training in the skills of blindness, along with on-the-job experiences, blind and visually impaired individuals can make a positive contribution in any number of fields. Technology and accessible workplaces have opened many jobs for people with vision loss.
"What do your students do after they graduate?"
A wide variety of occupations is open to people with vision loss. Most of our high school students have opportunities to work in the community learning job skills and building a work resume. Former SDSBVI students have become teachers, farmers, counselors, book editors, telephone operators, secretaries, business people, speech therapists, artists, auto mechanics, and homemakers to name a few.
"Where can I get more information?"
Contact SDSBVI for general information, evaluations, placement, tours, or other assistance.