Blind Wisconsin school counselor hopes to inspire students

BELOIT, Wis. -

Blindness isn’t a barrier to achievement.

That’s a message school counselor Chelsea Dallin conveys to her students at her alma mater, the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Janesville.

As someone who is only able to see a little light and is otherwise blind, Dallin wants to serve as an inspiration and mentor for students.

“Being blind doesn’t have to stop you from doing all the things you want to do, like go to college or be employed,” Dallin told the Beloit Daily News . “I want to help students discover what they want to do.”

Dallin started at the school in kindergarten. She later took English, Spanish, choir and public speaking classes through the Janesville School District. After graduating in 2003, Dallin received a Bachelor’s degree from Carthage College and a Master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

She also attended a nine month training program at a center for the blind in Denver, Colorado, where she further honed her independence by learning to live in and maintain an apartment, cook and clean, use technology and travel.

“I’ve been to the school here, college and grad school so I could come and give back and provide the students with some insight and direction,” Dallin said.

For example, through her own experiences being a cheerleader, running in track and field and being on the school’s forensics team, Dallin said she’s able to relate to students.

Dallin currently does a lot of individual counseling with the young students on a weekly or bi-weekly basis depending on their needs. She also does work for the school’s employment/college and career readiness summer programs.

During her sessions, Dallin often will develop lesson plans to help students de-stress a bit and build up their confidence.

There are about 55 students in the school, and most of them live at the school during the week and go home on the weekends during the summer.

“We may not have as many students as a public school or even as many students as we used to have, but there’s definitely the need,” Dallin said. “We have some complex situations and a variety of students we have to meet the needs for.”

For example, she said some students at the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired may have additional disabilities, such as using a wheel chair or needing a feeding tube.

Dallin is finishing up her third year as a staff member of the school, and during that time the school has implemented Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports program (PBIS), which teaches children about character education.

As a part of PBIS, Education Program Specialist Bri Hansen’s students have been working to benefit the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin. The students started with a donation box in the classroom, asking for items the Humane Society has placed on their “wish list.” Staff members then donated bowls, toys, blankets and more.

Hansen then decided to expand the donation request to ask for recyclables such as old plastic bottles, scraps of fabric, bells, smells, feathers, beads, yarn, cotton, toilet paper rolls and more for transformation into pet toys.

The students used their creativity to make stuffed birds, fish, mice, balls, ropes, slow feeding trays, pillows and games.

Using extra scraps from the kitchen, students also made dog treats by combining ingredients such as green beans, oats, peanut butter and blueberries into biscuit flavors.

After the project more students got involved by initiating a “mammals club” to talk about issues concerning all the animals on the planet. Some older students are even volunteering at the Humane Society to read to skittish pets looking for their forever homes. The program helps animals get accustomed to human voices and allows students to practice their reading and braille skills.

“The most exciting part of this endeavor for me has been watching things unfold as students come to realize they can make a difference,” Hansen said. “Serving their community brought joy and confidence as their ideas came to life to help some of our cutest community members.”

Jane Charlton, orientation and mobility instructor, said since most of the school’s students can’t see or can’t see very well, their learning comes from their other senses.

“Touch is a huge one, (also) smell and hearing; all of these things give them real work experiences and help them explore,” Charlton said. “It’s a great opportunity for our students to get involved with the community and interact with the public. So we really provide as much opportunity as possible for them to get out.”

Hansen added the Humane Society project has been beneficial for students in the classroom.

The experience helped student Mati Schliem-Guzman, 16, address her tactile defensiveness, for example. When working with Schliem, Hansen places hard and soft objects into a bin for Schliem-Guzman to sort. All of the soft objects go into a pillow case for the animals to snuggle with.

“For her to jump into a bin and touch all of these different things is progress for her,” Hansen said. “Being able to feel the difference between soft and hard is something she couldn’t do when she first started. Hansen sees Dallin as an example highlighting the importance of the work the school is doing to encourage students to reach for the stars.

“I’m still impressed by how there’s nothing off limits,” Hansen said.

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