Like many people, Kevin Danley is doing plenty of cooking during this pandemic. What’s different about Danley, however, is why he’s spending so much time in the kitchen.
Danley is a volunteer at the Washington State School for the Blind, Vancouver’s public school for students who are blind or have other visual impairments. Normally, he’s in the campus kitchen, walking students through safely navigating the kitchen. But with kids at home, Danley is making dozens of videos showing him whipping up basic meals and baking treats so students can listen and cook along at home.
“It’s fun doing the videos, but it’s very, very different,” he said. “I do miss the kids.”
The Washington State School for the Blind, located off of McLoughlin Boulevard, serves about 50 students with visual impairments. Many come from across the state, sleeping in campus dormitories during the week as they attend school. Like other schools, navigating distance education for students is a work in progress. But the school’s unique student body means staff are finding unique solutions to serving families from a distance.
“There is no shortage of work to be done, and I feel we are giving all we can to our students right now,” Principal Sean McCormick said. “It’s a tricky balancing act.”
‘It’s a necessity’
In a recent video, Danley stands in the kitchen of his Vancouver home. A voice over dictates the video’s title as it appears across the screen.
“In a kitchen, text appears,” the voice says. “Baking lemon pound cake with Kevin.”
For students who attend the Washington State School for the Blind, academics are paired with personal skills. Lessons like these are actually baked into their special education plans, or Individualized Education Programs.
The plans outline the services students with disabilities receive. They often mandate support for academic needs, such as a reading tutor or additional time for students to complete assignments. They often also include details about a student’s medical needs or access to occupational therapy.
Some students at the Washington State School for the Blind are also guaranteed time in the kitchen, learning how to cook, or getting lessons on personal hygiene, or other life skill lessons that are a hallmark of the school’s mission.
“It’s a necessity,” said Danley, who is semiretired after a decadeslong career as a caterer. “It’s really good for self-esteem, when they can feel proud that they’ve made something.”
When it comes to academics, the school has set up a series of Zoom meetings students can pop into throughout the day to visit teachers and disability specialists. Once a week, paraeducators put together packets of Braille and large-type materials to send to students. At times, teachers have had to drive hours to deliver supplies to students or swap out their computers.
“It’s so individualized,” McCormick said. “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re in different boats. That goes for each of our households and families.”
Corey Grandstaff, the school’s recreational program manager, said Danley’s video lessons have been key in ensuring the school is still meeting students’ continued need to learn independent skills.
“For them to be competitive, they’re going to need to be independent,” Grandstaff said. “They need to be participating students after they’re done with us. We have to provide that instruction explicitly.”
Seventh-grade student Charles Johnson, 13, has taken so much to the video lessons that he’s even started sending his own back. His mom, Tammy Johnson, filmed him making gluten-free cookies to show Danley.
“Making videos is quite fun,” Charles said. “Why not? I can make food and turn it into a video.”
Johnson is grateful for the opportunity to have something to do with her son.
“They’re being pretty creative with not being able to do it in person,” she said.