Program teaches educators to work with youth with vision loss

By: Austin Arceo, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
December 11, 2013

Some Indiana State University students consider William Powell's Braille reading and writing course among the most difficult they will take. When they finish the course, they are expected to teach their own students the lessons they learned in his class: to read and write Braille.

Students enrolled in the Promoting Achievement for Students with Sensory Loss (PASS) Visual Impairment Licensure Program learn to work with youth who have impaired vision. The distance education program is intended for Indiana educators. The Indiana Department of Education funds the program, which is the only one of its kind in the state to provide educators with the required certification to work with school-aged youth who have vision loss.

"Once a teacher gets this endorsement, they are certified to work with kids who are either blind or have low vision," said Powell, who teaches Braille to educators within the program. "The other positive is for the children statewide, both in residential and public schools, there are more teachers who know how to teach them."

PASS offers a graduate-level licensure program that features five classes and a practicum. Students typically take one class each semester including summers and complete the program in two years. The program accepts people with an Indiana teacher's license, with priority given to applicants who are currently working on an emergency permit, said Marcee Wilburn, project coordinator for PASS.

"This licensure can make teachers more marketable, because this certification is something that not many people have," Wilburn said. "There is a shortage of teachers of students who are blind or have low vision. Districts and co-ops are looking to fill this void with individuals who are qualified to work with this population of students."

The program, housed in the Blumberg Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Special Education within the Bayh College of Education, typically accepts about 12 students in each cohort, Wilburn said. Twenty-nine students are currently enrolled at various levels of the program and a new cohort will start in the spring.

"Teachers acquire a specific skill set within the program allowing them to better serve students who are blind or have low vision. A good teacher can open the world to these students," Wilburn said.

Powell enjoys teaching the PASS students, who he notes are talented teachers. Their experience is helpful, as they learn a lot in Powell's class within a short time.

"It would be the equivalent of learning a foreign language in a semester," he said of his Braille course. "I work heavily with the students to give lots of feedback and encouragement, as they will then pass their skills onto others."

Classes are mostly taught on the Internet, with weekend seminars and face-to-face classes occasionally scheduled in the Indianapolis area. The program, which is funded by a grant, allocates funding for students' books, materials and lodging. Students are responsible for all tuition costs.

"Most of the instructors are teachers of students who are blind or have low vision across the state," Wilburn said. "They are experienced in their field. Two of the instructors are retired teachers who have decided to return to the field to share their passion and expertise with others."

The program is available to recent Indiana State teaching graduates, though few have taken advantage of it. Upon completion of the program, graduates have skills that will benefit their future students while also opening more professional opportunities for them.

"It is very important that we make sure that our teachers are prepared to effectively work with all children in our state's schools, and that they value and understand the diverse backgrounds and experiences each child brings to the classroom and can build on those experiences," said Kandi Hill-Clarke, dean of the Bayh College of Education. "We are pleased to be able to provide the PASS program, which provides educators the skills they need to help their students and schools succeed."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/Media-Construction/University-Hall-Construction/i-4q9Ctrz/0/L/08_13_08_university_hall-29-L.jpg University Hall, which houses the Bayh College of Education and Blumberg Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Special Education at Indiana State University

Contact: Marcee Wilburn, project coordinator for Promoting Achievement for Students with Sensory Loss, Blumberg Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Special Education, Bayh College of Education, 812-237-8115 or marcee.wilburn@indstate.edu

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu