Students Become Companions Using Courage, Understanding, Communication

Once a week, fourth graders at The Girls’ School of Austin drive over to The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired to share a PE class. One-on-one, they guide their TSBVI companions through indoor and outdoor events—everything from synchronized swimming and track meets to dancing and obstacle courses.

GSA students enjoy taking advantage of the TSBVI facilities, and TSBVI students have a peer to guide them. Most importantly, students from both schools form meaningful friendships through interactions with a more diverse peer group.

GSA students begin with sensitivity training, learning about safely guiding and communicating—verbally and non-verbally—with another person. Blindfolds are used to better demonstrate what it’s like to navigate the world with a vision impairment.

As fourth graders forge new relationships, older students can stay in touch with their former companions or make new friends through special events such as Austin’s annual Dynamic Duo Dash, a guided run that this year included members of the area’s blind and visually impaired community. The girls could choose to guide runners, joggers, or walkers along the route as family members cheered from the sidelines.

“Stepping out of their comfort zones requires a lot of courage, but the end result is worth it,” says PE Teacher Jenny Sparks. “It empowers them, and it’s a skill they’ll be able to use for the rest of their lives. If they see someone who needs assistance, they’ll jump in and not even think about it. They come to understand that, even if we’re not all the same, that does not mean we are not equal.”

Does your school do something similar?

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