What has been the main challenge for students in returning to the classroom and face-to-face classes this year?
Of course the pandemic was difficult for everyone. I think it was doubly hard for our students to live through the pandemic, since most of them come from low-income areas, where their families sometimes do not have many economic possibilities to take them somewhere for recreation or where they can develop some social or cultural activity. They have spent a lot of time inside their homes and the environments where they develop are usually small. So first there has been a socio-emotional work with them, which has been done by psychologists, classroom teachers and also by the whole disciplinary team, and there has also been work with the family. The children have been returning to their routines at school. First we gave them a lot of flexibility because they had to control the time from the moment they left their homes until they arrived. At the entrance, there were biosecurity protocols that they had to follow. So, all of that was something new for them at school. There was training and then everything flowed, it has developed quite well. Something very emotional for us was that the children were longing and telling us “I'm happy to come to school”. I think it has been positive in every way. There has been a lot of work on the part of the teachers and on the part of the families, which has yielded good results.
How did your vocation for teaching come about?
Since I was a little girl, I liked teaching and sharing. I felt that children could continue to develop many things when you put enthusiasm and creativity into sharing what you know with others. When I came to work at this school, it was more what the kids taught me than what I gave for them. Being visually impaired, I would hear them say, “Miss, you're tall,” and I would ask, “How do you know I'm tall?” They would answer, “It's just that I feel your voice coming from above”. Then they associate some elements of the environment and create a representation. I believe that this is the most important thing: to make the people in our environment happy, the children and their families as well, to offer them a place where they can have dignity, where they can develop many things and all those things that their parents, suddenly, because of a diagnosis, thought that their children might not be able to achieve, but they come here and find a team of professionals who can offer them opportunities. Beyond thinking about what they cannot do, we have to offer them opportunities by eliminating barriers, because there are many barriers. I think the first one is the attitudinal one. Sometimes there are people who say: “But how can he go to school if he can't see or walk?” These are things that some people have incorporated from previous generations and they are transmitted. For example, I was taking a diploma course and a teacher said: “They have filled my classroom with autistic children”. When you work in this, that sentence sounds hard to you, because it is the right of these children to education. You have to prepare yourself, but above all you have to have a good attitude and understand that you are not doing them a favor, you are responding to that need as a human being.
When students with visual impairment finish their academic training and some of them go on to technical or higher education, what are the main jobs in which they usually work?
When they only have visual impairment, either blindness or low vision, they start at C.E.B.E. “San Francisco de Asís” and then they do educational inclusion, then they go to regular basic education schools, some between third and sixth grade, then they continue to high school and then many opt for music, there are also radio hosts, lawyers, masseurs. Recently they have asked if they could be coffee tasters. I have also seen that there are several girls who are studying psychology. Here we prepare the children for life, although life is lived day by day and there is where you learn, but here are the first years of life, then they grow up and here we also give them and their families tools, because when parents are given the news that a child with a disability is on the way, it is not easy at the beginning. There is an issue of acceptance and of saying “What am I going to do? Now where am I going to go?” And then when they knock on the doors of the school, they realize that it was not as difficult as they thought, that just like them there are other families who share similar feelings and who also have children with very similar characteristics and that here they find a home that responds to those characteristics.
When you get to know children with visual impairment closely, what do you think we need as a society to integrate and empower them more?
We need to know all the things they are capable of and understand that it is a matter of rights, that we all have the right to have a dignified life, to develop according to our characteristics, to be respected in diversity. In human beings everyone is diverse and we need to be more empathetic and more respectful.