It all began when teachers and staff at the Delrey School in Lansdowne noticed students had trouble focusing with their eyes.
"They would have trouble looking at faces or areas that were very complex looking, " said Sara Kempler, a special educator at the school at 3610 Commerce Drive."They weren't processing it."
Kempler, who is working on a Ph.D. in special education at the University of Maryland, College Park, spoke to her professor, Dr. Sandra Newcomb, about her students. Newcomb is an expert in Maryland on Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI), which occurs when the brain has trouble processing visual information.
"She came out and she looked at a couple of our kids and told us that they had characteristics of CVI," Kempler said. "Of 10 students, most of them had characteristics, but had never been diagnosed by a doctor."
Now, the school, in an industrial park off Washington Boulevard, is improving learning opportunities for those children with deaf-blindness and multi-sensory impairments.
Unified Community Connections' Delrey School, which serves ages 2 and 21 with multiple disabilities, is piloting a program to serve those students with CVI.
The impairment is often found in children with brain injuries, which can be caused by trauma, a syndrome or premature birth, Kempler said.
The Delrey School now has a demonstration classroom to serve students with multi-sensory impairments, through a partnership with Connections Beyond Sight and Sound, Kempler said.
Newcomb is also an education specialist with Connections Beyond Sight and Sound.
The Delrey School, established in nearby Catonsville, received a Maryland State Department of Education certificate of approval to serve deaf-blind students in August, 2014.
The school serves children with disabilities throughout the state who need an individualized education plan, said Mimi Wang, principal of the school.
CVI is the leading cause of visual impairment of children in the U.S. However, the needs of the students are also the most misunderstood, according to information on the Connections Beyond Sight and Sound website. The organization is a partnership between the Maryland State Department of Education and University of Maryland, College Park.
Because it's an issue with the brain and not the eyes, you can intervene and improve students' vision, Kempler said.
"When I learned about it, it was very, very exciting," Kempler said. . "You mean, I could do something about that? That was fabulous to me."
Her classroom has been altered to suit the needs of students with CVI. For example, the fluorescent lights in the ceiling are covered with blue plastic wrap. "For students who light gaze, they will stare at the lights all day instead of looking at what you really need them to look at," Kempler explained.
The teachers target vision in lessons throughout the day to give students the opportunity to look and practice their skills, Kempler said.
The school has also adjusted curriculum in order to meet the needs of students with the impairment. "We slow things down, we repeat a lot of information for a long period of time," Kempler said. "The students get their own sets of materials that they don't have to share."
That includes having their own set of vocabulary cards and props in order to increase the number of senses used to learn information, Kempler said.
With the new classroom set up and their individual learning tools, children are able to process information more easily in their environment, Kempler said.
Kempler said she and other teachers at the school have seen improvement in the way that their students learn and process information.
"Students with visual impairment don't have incidental learning like the rest of us have. They don't learn by watching their neighbor," Kempler said. "Teaching them a way for their brain to understand what their eyes are seeing opens up the world to them."
Kempler said if all goes well, the school hopes to expand the program.