Students from the Edmonton area are ‘cooking up’ good times at an after-school program in Sherwood Park. Tech treks, a part of the Students with Vision Loss Initiative, is a unique program that offers students with vision loss the opportunity to not only brush up on their skills in the kitchen but also to work on their assistive technology skills. The group is facilitated by a mentor tutor, 18-year-old Melissa Banks, as well as two braillist-teachers and a teacher for the visually impaired. Now into its fourth intake, the program continues to thrive with eight participants currently registered. The students range from Grades 4 to 12, however the program is open to any student with vision loss who lives in the Edmonton area.
The program is held on Thursday afternoons out of Bev Facey High School and runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Upon arriving at the school, students immediately have the opportunity to work on their Orientation and Mobility skills as they make their way to the classroom independently. Each session is based on a particular theme, often a social skill, and begins with a short lesson/discussion on that particular topic. For instance, ‘courtesy’ was the selected topic for the lesson on February 3, 2011. Following the discussion, the students make their way to the foods lab. Here they break into two groups to prepare themselves a snack. This part of the lesson not only allows the students to practice their cooking skills, but it allows them to work cooperatively in order to achieve a goal (in this case, delicious cheese biscuits, yum!). Once the snack has been prepared, the students have the opportunity to continue their discussion about the session topic. As an example, Banks treated the group to several skits based on cell phone courtesy. Given the fact that the mentor teacher is visually impaired as well, she is able to offer real insight during the lessons and provides a stellar role model for the participants to look up to.
Following the fun in the kitchen it is time to get down to business. The students make their way back to the Student Services classroom to work on their technology skills. Each student begins by practicing their keyboarding skills using programs such as Talking Typer. Afterwards, they work through a lesson involving other essential technologies such as JAWS, a screen-reading software program. Banks is again a key component to this part of the lesson; sharing her own experiences and expertise with each of the students.
Linda Stirrett, the teacher for the visually impaired responsible for implementing this program, is pleased with the results. "The project’s primary focus is to provide learning opportunities with adaptive technology; however it is clear that the benefits transcend this. Not only are students connecting to technology, they are making meaningful connections with friends, and that's really important!"
A big thank you to the Tech Treks program team; Linda Stirrett, Janice Niles, Manizheh Wilson and Melissa Banks, keep up the great work!