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Taking Learning to New Heights

For a week this fall, a group of students with visual impairments and their SSD teachers took their learning to new heights by venturing outside the classroom. Way outside.

Three SSD teachers and 11 students who receive services from SSD traveled to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., in September to participate in the Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students (SCIVIS).

The weeklong camp, coordinated by teachers of the visually impaired from throughout the United States, features accessible, hands-on activities using state-of-the-art simulators and mission hardware. Many adaptations are available to allow students with visual impairments to participate fully, including Braille and large-print materials, lamps and magnification devices.

Students learn about teamwork, leadership and decision making in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. Living in a group setting with other students away from home also allows participants to increase their independence and skills in Braille reading, daily living, orientation and mobility, said SSD teacher Alexis Moore.

“I think the students benefit in so many ways,” Moore said. “They are able to meet other students from around the United States and the world who may have the same or similar visual impairment. Some will cry, overcome fears, mature, exhibit leadership qualities and most, if not all, will establish friendships for life.”

Aryana Dread, a fifth-grader who receives SSD services at Townsend Elementary in the Hazelwood School District, helped lead simulated missions as a flight engineer and a mission scientist. She relished meeting new people and learning about space exploration.

“This was the first time I ever traveled away from home for a week without my mom or dad or two brothers,” Aryana said. “I learned that even though I am blind, it doesn’t mean that I can’t be successful in school or in life. I just need to work harder to achieve my goals.”

Damon Tyson, an eighth-grader at Hazelwood East Middle School, said he especially enjoyed interacting with other attendees during the dance at the end of the program and serving as the leader at Area 51, where camp participants worked together to create a bridge.

“Damon showed terrific leadership and problem-solving skills, and really grew socially,” said Bonnie Lenz, Damon’s SSD teacher. “This was the first time he had been around other kids with visual impairments and it was like leveling the playing field for him.”

Students from SSD have been going to space camp since 2006. Lighthouse for the Blind-St. Louis pays all expenses for students and chaperones to attend.

Aryana Dread
Aryana Dread

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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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