By Rebecca Walkup
In 1897, the Oklahoma School for the Blind was established as a private school in Fort Gibson. It became a state school in 1907 and was moved to its present location in Muskogee in 1914. The school is operated by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services as a residential and day school with the mission “to provide appropriate individualized academic, social and vocational education, evaluations, and outreach services to Oklahoma’s blind and visually impaired children and youth.”
The school serves pre-kindergarten through grade 12 students from across Oklahoma who have some degree of visual impairment, ranging from totally blind to needing magnification. Of the 92 students, approximately 60 percent are residential students from across the state who live on campus during the school week. These students live with roommates in college-style dormitories supervised by dorm parents. Special areas are dedicated to studying and recreation, and specific times are designated for these activities each evening. A four-day per week school schedule with classes from 7:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. each day was implemented in response to residential students and their families who requested a longer weekend to allow a better balance between time spent at school and time spent at home.
The primary goal is to help students be as independent as possible. The school provides an array of technology to help students access learning materials and gain the skills they need. Students also learn to advocate for themselves when they understand their needs and limitations and know what it takes to be successful.
Students at the Oklahoma School for the Blind take the same academic classes as students at public schools and also have classes from specialists in assistive technology, speech and language, orientation and mobility, and other areas of special need. .
All 90 faculty and staff members are required to obtain blind and visual impairment certification. This training is provided in cooperation with Northeastern State University each June and is completed over two years. It includes work in orientation and mobility, braille, eye diseases, and curriculum and educational strategies for teaching students with visual impairments.
The school staff are diligent in providing opportunities for students to be involved in the community, such as attending plays, concerts and other activities in Muskogee and Tulsa and participating in Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H and student council, which meet during lunch. Each June, three one-week summer camps are held to provide opportunities for campers to network with others throughout the states. Students who have visual impairments and attend public schools are invited to attend the camps to experience the programs offered by the School for the Blind.
For information about the Oklahoma School for the Blind, contact Carolyn Shepherd at (918) 781-8200.
To recommend an organization or program for an upcoming column, reach Rebecca Walkup at (918) 683-4600 or rwalkup