Changing classes at the airport

Richard Elliott’s “Eyes on the World” at Sea-Tac International Airport

What is changing classes like for a student with cortical visual impairment (CVI)?

Following a year of COVID learning, my son now attends an independent school, a small school, with small classes. Small means less than ten kids in his class. So the entire student body is comprised of fortysomething students. Changing classes involves a fraction of those kids. In other words, this is not your typical public school hallway, overflowing with students. Recently it again became necessary to ask my son with CVI about his experience when changing classes. We have been here before. Changing classes between class periods with all the other kids. Waiting in one class because the hallway has “too many kids.” Taking the other, empty stairwell up to his classroom.

“What is it like when you’re changing classes?”

He begins with the pragmatics. “Well, first the teacher makes an announcement – ”

No, no, no I mean – What is it like for you, what does it feel like for you when all the kids are changing classes?

“It feels like Sea-Tac Airport,” he says without hesitation.

Sea-Tac International Airport in Seattle. This kid knows his airports, he knows what he’s talking about. We haven’t flown much during COVID. But the last time we flew was to Sea-Tac.

How does it feel like the airport, what makes it feel like the airport?

“Well it’s crowded, noisy and loud, and big, everybody moving around – it’s like Sea-Tac Airport.”

We grown ups know what airports are like. We also know that a dozen or so kids is far from a crowded airport – to us. Is there anything more crowded and busy than an airport? What comes close to an aiport? The first thing that comes to mind is a busy shopping mall, especially on the weekend or during the holidays. Busy downtown streets. Using public transportation during rush hour.

“It’s noisy and loud.” Noisy, loud, sounds are big for him, he expresses this more and more, as he grows. Visiting an aquarium one time, “Should we go see the beluga whale or try back later when there are fewer people?” “Yeah – later when it’s not so LOUD,” he told me.

Presumably this airportness only happens after lunch, right? When aaallll the students are returning to classes, half the kids to one side of the school, half to the other. All in all, not really that many students – to us. “Does it only feel like Sea-Tac after lunch time??”

“It feels like Sea-Tac Airport every time we change classes.”

Dropping in from the airport every time you arrive in class, on top of everything else that goes on inside the classroom – chatter, instruction, worksheets, looking-and-listening, kids getting up, moving around, dropping things, chairs scraping across the floor. Maybe the teacher decides to play music that day. Or show a video that nobody has thought to preview, preteach, prelearn with the student with CVI.

Imagine, every time you change classes at school, it’s like re-entering a crowded airport. Now imagine what that’s like for a student with CVI, navigating a crowded airport to make your way to your next class, over and over, all day long. Out into the airport, then back into class. Out into the airport, then back to class. Again it’s not our normal, it’s their normal.

“Eyes on the World,” Richard C. Elliott, at Sea-Tac International Airport.

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