SANTA ANA : New School Delights Blind Kids

The four dozen students at the Blind Children's Learning Center wasted no time in exploring their new school. After all, it was four times bigger than the cramped quarters with which they were familiar.

On Tuesday, their second day at the school, many of the 4- and 5-year-olds scampered around the playground and climbed onto swings and merry-go-rounds. Even though being there meant that summer was over, none of the children seemed to mind. Many said they enjoyed being back at school.

The center relocated in July to a spacious new campus at 18542 Vanderlip Ave. in an unincorporated area east of Santa Ana. After 30 years in an increasingly more crowded building at 2115 N. Broadway, center officials decided to move to accommodate the continuous growth in enrollment.

At the new location, the school can handle twice the current number of 48 students, Executive Director Gabrielle Hass said. The two-acre site, behind the Peace Lutheran Church, which is leasing two buildings to the center, includes six classrooms and a football field-size playground lined with trees.

The school works with visually impaired children from 6 months to 6 years old and a handful of students without sight problems, primarily siblings of blind students.

The center's $750,000 annual operating budget is paid with government and corporate grants, private donations, United Way contributions and some fees from parents, Hass said. The cost to a family for its child's care is based on a sliding scale ranging from $400 per month to no charge.

Children come from all over the county and as far as Long Beach and Lake Elsinore to attend classes, Hass said. The center offers regular academic instruction, Braille training and counseling. It also provides at-home instruction for blind infants.

Teachers try to prepare children for life in mainstream schools, spokeswoman Linn Morgan said.

"We want them to become normal members of society and not isolate them just because they can't see," she said. About 90% of the school's students eventually attend regular public school classes.

Kirti Jariwala, who lives in Cerritos, said she likes the new school as much as her 5-year-old son, Krishna. As she watchedhim push a plastic wagon down a hallway, she said, "He learns a lot and he likes it. He doesn't want to leave."

On Tuesday morning, some students set about exploring classrooms with their hands and trying to memorize where everything was located. In one room, Amelia, 4, kneeled in front of a box and practiced arranging objects within it to create a three-dimensional map of her own room.

On the swings, George, 4, summed up what he likes about the school: "Everything."

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