Blind since birth, Georgia 3-year old thrives in innovative pre-K program

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Brooklyn Hunt of Bartow County has a lot to say, or make that sing.

"Oh, she's so smart," her mother Lexie Hunt says. "She's wild, and she's hyper."
The 3-year old has been singing and playing musical instruments since she could talk.

"That's her favorite thing," her mom says.  "She can go from country to rock, to ACDC, to the Rolling Stones."
Brooklyn was born blind because of a condition known as septo-optic dysplasia. According to the National Institutes of Health, it takes place in 1 in 10,000 live births. But, Lexie Hunt says Brooklyn has a gift for language.

"She was saying words at 6-months old and 7-months, saying words most babies don't," Hunt says.  "She has a really good vocabulary for her age."

At Pine Log Elementary in Rydal, Georgia, Brooklyn is in pre-kindergarten.

"She is exploring the world, and she communicates what she sees, and what she sees is with her hands," Bartow County Schools teacher Scott Evans says.

He works with the school district's 19 blind and visually impaired students. And Evans is using Brooklyn's sense of touch and curiosity to help her learn.On the day we visited, she's feeling her way through a series of berries, holding blueberries and strawberries in her fingers.

"We start out with concrete concepts, ideas like a real strawberry," Evans says. "Then, we'll transition to a book, where it is a flat, textured (one).  We even have coloring books with raised lines, where she can color. Eventually, we transfer that over to introducing individual letters in the Braille code."

Lexie Hunt says Brooklyn is soaking in everything she is learning.

"She asks questions like, 'What does a bug look like,' and 'Where is the sun," Hunt says.  

Much of Brooklyn's school day at Pine Log is spent working one on one with Evans and her other teachers.
But, an hour away, at her other pre-K at the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta, she's surrounded by youngsters who are all either blind or visually impaired, in a program custom-designed to help them learn through experience.

"90% of learning occurs in the visual sense, and 80% of learning occurs from birth to age 5," the program's director Stephanie Pizza says.

"So, early intervention is extremely important."

Pizza says everything here, from the design of the classroom, to the routines and repetition, to the way students are encouraged to talk and socialize, is focused on helping visually impaired and blind youngsters thrive as they transition to more traditional classrooms.

"Think about a child that has never experienced coming to school before, and then all of a sudden, they start kindergarten,' Pizza explains.  "And they're in this whole new world where they're hearing new things, and they're not understanding completely what 'circle time' is." 

By providing them with such a structured routine that typically mirrors a preschool classroom, we're setting the stage for them to be completely successful when they transition to kindergarten."

Brooklyn Hunt is soaking it all in, and already a stand out at both her schools. She's even has her own YouTube channel, Daily Dose of Brooklyn Grace. And you get the feeling we haven't heard the last of this young lady.