Empathy and Inclusion: Miami Lighthouse Bridges Gap for Blind, Visually Impaired Students

Miami Lighthouse's early childhood curriculum helped students improve their social and peer interaction skills

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Miami Lighthouse, the school for blind and visually impaired people in downtown Miami, recently got recognized as being one of the best.

One of their goals is to bridge the gap for blind students when they are ready to enter traditional schools.

“Too often the blind are overlooked,” said their president and CEO Virginia Jacko. “Whether we're talking employment or we're talking education or we're talking inclusion. And that's why I created our early Learning Inclusion program.”

When Jacko took over 17 years ago, the school was helping about 500 people. Now, that number has grown to 24,000.

“Fifty times more people,” she said. “That takes a lot of resources. But we haven't stopped.”

One of the things she’s created to help visually impaired or blind students is the early childhood education curriculum at the school. It’s the same curriculum traditional schools in Miami-Dade County follow, with some modifications like larger print or braille.

The curriculum proves to be working. A recent study from the University of Miami found that interactions between teachers and students exceeded national averages for pre-K and toddler classes. It also found students improved their social and peer interaction skills.

Meanwhile, for teachers, the study found stress levels were lower throughout the year.

But one of the most important findings was that students at Miami Lighthouse have higher empathy scores after being enrolled for longer than a year.

“I notice these children do not say, ‘Oh, that's my blind friend,’” Jacko said. “They say, ‘can I invite Mary over?'"

Empathy and inclusion are some of their pillars, but at the end of the day, this is still a school.

“Our goal is that every child that finishes, whether they're one year old, two year old, three year old, or they're kindergarten, first grade, second grade, if they have a vision impairment, they can transfer to the community school and be very comfortable in a classroom that will most likely be all sighted children because it is a sighted world,” she said.

The Miami Lighthouse recently expanded the school to take over the whole block and will soon announce the expansion of green spaces.

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