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Winter 2004 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

The Evolution of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in the 21st Century, Part Four

Phil Hatlen, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: A discussion of the comprehensive, statewide programs provided by TSBVI.

Key Words: blind, deafblind, comprehensive programs, curriculum development, staff development, outreach.

In the last See/Hear issue, I described on-campus programs for blind and visually impaired students at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI). These educational services are, for the most part, designed to provide intensive specialized services that may be difficult for the local school to provide. In this final segment of the series, I want to describe the ways in which TSBVI can enhance the education of children who never come to campus.

If a local school district has the capability and desire to provide an appropriate education for a blind or visually impaired student, then in most cases there is no reason for the student to come to the TSBVI campus.

In a previous article, I described TSBVI as being the center, or "hub" of services for all students in the state. There are few places in Texas that can assemble to depth and breadth of expertise that TSBVI has. Thus, the school is called upon to offer its services to students throughout the state. In fact, the Texas State Legislature has included language to this effect in the State Education Code. The service needed by an individual student will vary from none to substantial, and the comprehensive programs for off-campus students makes it possible for TSBVI to effectively supplement the work of a local district.

The following chart illustrates a variety of programs at TSBVI. There was a time during the evolution of TSBVI when many of these additional programs were in place, but the primary function remained that of a residential school for blind and visually impaired students. However, in recent years, as the services to off-campus students has grown and proven its effectiveness, TSBVI now values equally all the services this chart describes. If our major purpose is to provide educational services that local school districts have difficulty in providing, then we must offer a "menu" of opportunities for students to benefit from both on-campus and off-campus services.

TSBVI in the 21st Century

Diagram of services provided by TSBVI that are described in text.

The boxes around the periphery of this diagram represent programs and services that are either traditional, not quite new any more, or very new. A full explanation of all the boxes would require many pages, so I will only briefly describe each. The diagram and boxes should help explain why TSBVI has become a vital statewide resource for all blind and visually impaired students in Texas.

Short-Term Classes

TSBVI did not originate the idea of providing short-term classes during the school year, but we have improved and expanded the concept. Students enrolled in local schools have the opportunity to come to the TSBVI campus for a short time (two days to one week) and receive intensive instruction in a particular area. By providing some tutorial help during the student's time at TSBVI, we can assure local school districts that the student will not fall behind in classes taken in the regular school.

Comprehensive Programs

TSBVI continues to offer students their on-campus, residential program. It is rare for a student to stay at TSBVI for more than three years. When a student is admitted to TSBVI, the local school district is informed that we will provide educational services based on specific needs of individual students. These needs are determined by the parents and local school district. When those needs are met, it is our intention to transition the student back to her local school. Since local schools have become quite good at adapting and offering appropriate academic subjects, TSBVI's primary focus is on educational needs that are not related to academic courses, but rather on instruction in the expanded core curriculum areas. We are also able to provide intensive instruction for students with specific challenges such as those needed by students with deafblindness or multiple disabilities.

Post-Secondary

TSBVI and the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) now offer a collaborative transition program for high school graduates. Young people who have spent their entire school lives in regular schools will have first priority, because it is often very difficult for local schools to offer instruction in nonacademic areas, such as living skills, social skills, career education, assistive technology, etc. It is modeled after the highly successful Living Skills Center for the Visually Impaired in California.

Summer Programs

Each year TSBVI offers enrichment classes for students who spend the academic year in their local schools. There are usually about 12 different programs, ranging from one week to six weeks. While the programs offer many different themes, the emphasis for high school students is vocational education and work experience. Usually about 250 students are served.

Statewide Systems and Standards for VI Students

TSBVI has developed"Quality Programs for the Visually Impaired" (QPVI), a system that local schools use to determine the effectiveness of their programs for blind and visually impaired students. QPVI has assisted many local districts in Texas, and has recently expanded to other states. It is primarily a self-study process that requires schools to carefully and honestly evaluate the services they are providing to blind and visually impaired students.

Facilitation of Teacher Preparation

Texas, like all states in the U.S., has suffered from a chronic shortage of teachers for visually impaired students, and orientation and mobility instructors. In response to this problem, the Texas State Legislature designated TSBVI as the lead agency in facilitating efforts to minimize the shortage of teachers. TSBVI contracts with universities in the state in order to accomplish this. Also, TSBVI has developed an outstanding mentor program, pairing experienced "master teachers" with new teachers.

Instructional Materials Center

In its role as a statewide resource, TSBVI is now the Statewide Instructional Materials Center for products available from the American Printing House for the Blind and purchased through the Federal Quota system.

EXIT Program

This is a special program designed the meet the needs of students who are within several years of graduation. It provides opportunities for community-based programming and career exploration. Students live in more home-like settings and have instructional emphasis on independent living skills needed for successfully moving into more independent adult settings.

Outreach Statewide Instructional and Parent Support

The Outreach Department at TSBVI is well-known throughout the U.S. as a model in providing technical assistance to students, teachers, parents, and administrators. There are two teams in the Outreach Department. One specializes in visual impairment, and the other in services for deafblind students.

Statewide Staff Development

TSBVI, through its Outreach Department, provides professional development for all teachers in the state. Opportunities for professional growth for educators and administrators are provided in a variety of formats, ranging from statewide conferences to interactive video programs.

Statewide Student Registration

The Texas Education Agency contracts with Education Service Center XI in Fort Worth for the completion of a yearly statewide registration of all blind and visually impaired students. The Service Center has subcontracted this task to TSBVI. Data from this process is sent to the American Printing House for the Blind, where the quota fund for Texas is established. Student Registration data may be used for research, with the permission of the Texas Education Agency. Additionally, TSBVI is now compiling the Texas Deafblind Census for submission to OSERS.

Research and Development

TSBVI is often called upon to provide access to students and teachers for studies involving technology projects. We strongly support legitimate research efforts of colleagues, and we make our campus available as long as research does not conflict with the purpose for which students are at TSBVI. Internal research and development is conducted on an ongoing basis by our Curriculum Department.

Website

The TSBVI website (www.tsbvi.edu) began as a project to share information and resources statewide. Currently it receives about 1,500,000 hits per year, making it one of the most used websites related to the education of blind and visually impaired students. While used primarily in Texas, it has become a major source of information and learning for many countries throughout the world.

Curriculum Development

TSBVI's Curriculum Department works with the entire school to determine the need for new curriculum guides. These are developed first for the teachers at TSBVI, secondarily for teachers throughout Texas, and finally for the entire world. We have been blessed by having some of the best writers of curriculum in the U.S. Our publications are "best-sellers" in the profession because they are practical, easily put into practice, and written by teachers.

I would like to emphasize to you that none of these outside boxes existed 15 years ago. TSBVI did not assume these responsibilities in order to survive. Rather, TSBVI carefully analyzed the current status of education for blind and visually impaired students, attempted to project into the future, and developed programs designed to provide every child in Texas an equal opportunity to education. These programs illustrate the partnership that continues to grow between local school districts and TSBVI.


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Last Revision: September 1, 2010