It is no small triumph for Greg Weins when he catches a football pass or kicks a soccer ball during recess at the Schroeder School in Huntington Beach.
Greg, 11, a talkative, outgoing fifth-grader, is almost totally blind, able only to distinguish between sunlight and shadow.
He is one of four visually impaired students who attend Schroeder along with sighted students as part of the school's "mainstreaming" program, which integrates blind and visually impaired students with the sighted.
Along with Heather O'Connell, Kellie Walders and Frank Camarena, Greg spends more than half his school day in a class for the visually impaired, polishing his Braille-reading skills and practicing reading, writing and math on a machine that looks similar to a typewriter and prints Braille script.
Greg and his three classmates participate in many of the same classes and all of the extracurricular activities that their schoolmates do, said instructor Nick Krupka.
The remainder of Greg's day is spent in class with his sighted schoolmates.
The program, available to students from kindergarten to sixth grade, is the only one of its kind in the Westminster school district, said Krupka, a teacher of the blind for 27 years. Krupka's students come from the Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach City school districts as well as Westminster.
"Basically, they learn everything other kids learn," Krupka said. "We try to have our visually handicapped kids participate in anything they want to at the school. The opportunity is always there."
Greg has already signed up for the football team, Krupka said.
Krupka said the goal is to have his students spend half their school day with sighted students while they are in elementary school, 75% by junior high school and almost 100% by high school.
Twenty or more years ago, visually impaired students usually remained separate from their sighted classmates, either in different schools or, if at the same school, in segregated classes, said Sheila Daily, student training coordinator for the adult program at the Braille Institute.
Students from Schroeder and other area elementary schools also attend an afternoon Independent Living Skills (ILS) class once a week at the Braille Institute in Anaheim, where they learn how to perform everyday tasks such as making beds, folding clothes, setting a dinner table, preparing foods and pouring liquids into cups.
"We take (these skills) for granted because we can see," said Gerald Edwards, director of the ILS program. It is crucial that the children learn early how to be independent, Edwards said, because "it's much harder to learn these skills when they get older."