July 13, 2009 — -- Five-year-old Iliana is visually impaired, but when she has trouble, her preschool classmate Lulu is there to help.
"I like to come with Iliana because I want to help her," Lulu said. "I hold her hand because sometimes, sometimes she needs help."
Iliana and Lulu's simple camaraderie, perhaps uncommon at most schools, is normal at the Lighthouse International preschool in New York City, where several blind students are taught alongside sighted students.
The school is part of Lighthouse International's nonprofit mission to prevent blindness and to provide services for those already living with visual impairment.
"The kids that are visually impaired, they're getting a regular preschool experience just like every other child should get," Lighthouse International School principal Gregory Santamoor told "Good Morning America."
Santamoor said the preschool runs with a "little extra adaptation" for the students with visual impairment.
The paper the kids use is raised so the students can actually feel their work. Every book the school has in print, they also have in braille. Whatever the sighted students learn, the visually impaired students learn right along with them.
"We have the letters of the week. So, as the children are learning their print letter of the week, the child who is blind is learning their braille letter of the week," teacher Regina D'Ambrosio explained.
The school has six integrated classrooms with kids ages 3 to 5. All of them follow a standard preschool curriculum.
Some parents, like Lulu's father Rocky Kenworthy, were hesitant about enrolling their child in a school that makes a point to teach all children as similarly as possible.
"In the beginning, I was thinking, 'Is she not going to get the attention she might get at another school even if it were a little bigger classroom because of the special needs that these children might need," Kenworthy said.
A Teacher for Every Four Kids
But with 12 kids and three teachers in each class, the kids do not want for attention and Kenworthy said the school also teaches an early lesson in compassion.
"They learn that it's good to be kind," D'Ambrosio said. "It's good to help people and help your friends, and then they get exposed to that at a very young age... It's a life lesson learned."
The visually impaired also benefit from the joint education, according to a small study published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness in 2002, which said it helps blind children be more social.
Maribel Montes, mother of John, who has limited vision, said she can see the difference in her son.
"When he first started, he was socially withdrawn and not as confident," Montes said. "But now, he has tons of friends. He knows all the staff. His confidence has built incredibly."
But according to D'Ambrosio, the greatest advantage to the school is that the kids lose sight of their differences.
"They'll never say, 'Iliana, my friend who is blind.' It's 'Iliana, my friend,'" she said.
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