by Hayley Agers
The 2018-2019 school year was the first my two children were in public school. As the year came to an end, I reflected on events of the past year and marveled at what growth had occurred, not only in my children, but in the fifth graders in my daughter Sydney’s class.
In past grade levels, I had spent many hours in both Sydney and Brayden’s classes, and their classmates had become quite familiar with Ms. Hayley and her guide dog coming into the class, going on field trips, and helping out around the school. They knew the rules when it came to touching a guide dog, learned over the years how to do sighted guide, asked all the curious questions children have, and became pretty good at describing things to me so I could be a part of every experience. This was different and I only had a few chances to be with this fifth-grade class and, hopefully, teach them a little about the day in the life of a blind person and how they could help if ever encountering one while out and about.
In December 2018, I went in and taught a craft to the class. This had been their chance to ask any questions. At the end of the afternoon, the teacher mentioned that the class enjoyed the Q&A time better than they did the craft. In May 2019, I got to chaperone a class trip to the beach. We had a really good time, each girl in my group asking if they could take turns helping guide me, coming up with a list of treasures we could look for on the beach walk, and having a picnic lunch where they talked openly with me about their own challenges, which really warmed my heart. But now it was June, and only a few weeks left of the school year. I wanted to do something just fun, while teaching them something. So, I put together a braille treasure hunt.
The class was divided into groups, each assigned a color. The class was given a quick overview of what braille is and each person given a braille alphabet card to use as a decoder. Once given their first clue, they were off. They had to work together as a team – one person saying the dot positions, one person using the card to find the dots to make a letter, another writing down each letter to form a word, and then the whole group figuring out where to go for the next clue. An example of a clue was, “Aim, kick, score and win. This is what your team will do if you can find all the clues first.” This led them to the goal post on the soccer field. Each clue was hidden in a colored egg that coordinated with the team color and they were numbered. The teams were told not to pick up any eggs not their color and they had to do the clues in order. The team coming in first would be the winner.
It was a hot June day, so I had already planned that midway through the six clues, a clue would take them back to the class to get a bottle of water and a snack. This worked out great. I watched and listened in amazement as these kiddos worked as a team, ran with such joy around the school collecting clues, and giving high-fives to one another when they figured it out. I was shocked when the first team came in with all clues completed in just over 30 minutes. The laughter that day was contagious and will stay with me for many years.
After the hunt, everyone got a small prize, and the winning team received a bigger one. We then had time left to talk about the different ways blind people might use braille. More questions were asked, and many of the children commented on how much they had learned in the past year about being blind and how they hoped they’d see somebody to help.
The event ended with a well-deserved Farley petting station. These kids had been so good all year, were polite when asking each visit if they could pet Farley, and taking it really well when each time I told them no. But now was their chance. It truly was a precious time. We even got a class photo outside with Farley as the mascot.