When Jack Berry was diagnosed with visual impairment as a baby, he was enrolled in the infant-toddler program at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown.
There, he was given a “story box,” an interactive literary tool for children with visual impairments that includes physical objects as part of the storytelling experience.
Now a junior at Framingham High School, Berry decided to give back to Perkins for his Eagle Scout project by creating some story boxes that other visually impaired children could enjoy.
“I was trying to think of things that were important for me, and my mom remembered the story box and I did some research and we realized how important they were for literacy development,” said Berry, 16.
Founded in 1829, Perkins was the first school for the blind in the United States. Today, it has a range of educational programs on campus as well as consultation services at public schools. Perkins also provides a key community for people who are blind or visually impaired around Massachusetts.
Its infant-toddler program has been providing early intervention services for 42 years. In the past year, more than 600 children came through the program.
“Perkins was kind of like a lifeline for us,” Dara Berry, Jack’s mother, said of the program, where she met other mothers of blind or low-vision children with whom she could talk and share resources.
Although Berry’s vision improved as he grew older, the resources provided by Perkins aided him throughout his education, his mother said. While at Perkins, the Berry family received a Christmas-themed story box.
“Reading a story is a traditional family activity, but for students who are blind or visually impaired, having concepts of what some things are is challenging,” said Teri Turgeon, the education director of community programs at Perkins.
The goal of the story box is to give the child reading the opportunity to tactically explore the objects in the story that they might not be familiar with yet. For example, if a brush is included in the story, letting the child hold and experience the brush while reading can give them a better understanding, according to Turgeon.
“All of these experiences create the foundation in the framework for early literacy for children who are blind and visually impaired,” said Turgeon.
For his Eagle Scout project, Berry decided a meaningful, personal thing he could do was create some story boxes that children could enjoy.
Initially, Berry hoped to raise money for 32 story boxes, but he exceeded his goal and was able to create 40. The stories include “Goodnight Moon,” “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” The Three Little Pigs,” “Brown Bear, Brown Bear,” and “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”
He delivered them in-person to Turgeon, who will distribute them to 15 teachers who collaborated to give Berry story ideas. Each bag contains the story and associated objects, information on the bag, and a QR code with a recording of a Boy Scout reading the story, according to Turgeon.
“When we finally delivered them I felt really accomplished and I was really happy to finally give back to the full circle idea,” Berry said.