The Overbrook School for the Blind has been in existence since 1882, though many in Philadelphia and the surrounding neighborhood may not know it exists. The school’s mission is to deliver an education to those who are visually impaired or with other challenges. School staff treat it as their mission to not let visual impairment be a lifelong obstacle, but to help students reach their highest potential while learning about their individual talents and abilities.
One teacher, Gabriella Wolf, shared her experience working at the school. Wolf has been at the school for three years now, but knew that teaching was her goal ever since she was a kid.
What made you want to become a teacher specifically at Overbrook School For The Blind?
Growing up, I always said I was gonna be a teacher, there was no question about what I was going to do really. When I went to college, I realized quickly that elementary wasn’t for me, so I was like, “Oh gosh what do I do?”
I still wanted to be a teacher, so I changed my major to special ed and that’s what I wanted to do. I never thought I would work at Overbrook; the opportunity just kinda landed in my lap. Then I went back to school to become a teacher for the visually impaired. I always knew I wanted to work at a special ed school. I never knew I would end up here. I guess things just kinda worked out that way.
How long have you been teaching here?
I have been here three years and I’ve been teaching for four years.
What makes the school so different from other schools?
The community makes it stand out more than others. Here, we have the therapist working in the classrooms, whereas you don’t get that in other schools. Here, if I have a question, I can call the physical therapist and say, “Hey can you come check this out?” They’re around 24/7 and they can come over at any time.
It’s just a really close community. We have really great teams. I would just say just the people that work here too are so friendly and so understanding of everything. You won’t find that anywhere else.
What is your connection like with your students?
They’re like my kids. We are very close; it’s like a family. All my previous students felt they were like an extension of me because I felt like they were my kids. Because they’re so young, and they come in at 3-years-old, they still need a connection to an adult. As they grow up, they kind of get over that a little bit, but when they come in, they’re still very much like babies. You definitely feel like they are a part of you.
Can you tell me about the dynamic of coming to this school and what are requirements in order to get into the school?
For a student to be admitted here, they have to have some sort of visual impairment. Every student has a visual impairment or they are blind. We have more students that have visual impairments than blindness. They can also have an additional disability. We see a lot of physical impairments, motor, autism, intellectual disabilities, and hearing impairments. It’s usually the visual impairment and an additional disability. We take kids from 3 to 21.
What would you say were some of the difficulties that you didn’t think you would come across when coming to the school?
Everything. I was more prepared for it just from placements I was in before. I would say definitely the things that threw me off is just how having a visual impairment or having blindness can affect your sensory needs, and I never focused on sensory needs.
Also, I teach lots of life skills. This is my first year with an academic class, so that is different for me as well. We work on pre-kindergarten skills, where my previous classes were functional; it was all functional curriculum. That was definitely different for me.
What something do you want people to know that haven’t heard about the school or just don’t know that much about it?
When I came here, it was shocking because the school’s name is Overbrook School For The Blind. That’s not the case, it’s more like visual impairment, and they have additional needs on top of that. I don’t think many people know that. I think they think it’s a totally academic school for children who have been impaired, but that’s not the case. It’s very much functional academics, pre-academic skills.
We work on so much more, we do sensory hearing impairment, therapies, speech occupational therapy, physical occupational therapy and orientational ability. I think there’s so much more to this field than what you might not know if you were not in the school.
What is your biggest takeaway when you leave the school each day?
For my sanity, I don’t do work outside of the school but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t stop running through my head. Whenever I leave school I’m just worried about the students. If they’re okay, did they make it home? Did they eat dinner? Are they happy, taken care of, and everything? I’m constantly thinking about how can I get the kids to their next step. Just the biggest takeaway is that if they had fun, did they have a good day, are they okay when they’re home, and what can I do tomorrow?
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