Polar Express brings visually impaired students to Brookhaven

Published 3:36 pm Wednesday, December 20, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — The Polar Express stopped in Brookhaven with 22 students and 13 staff members from Mississippi Schools for the Deaf and Blind Wednesday afternoon. Students surrounded Santa Claus, sang Christmas carols, told him about their favorite Christmas movie and hugged him. 

The 22 students were from the blind school and have a spectrum of visual impairments. They read the Polar Express book and watched the movie prior to the field trip from Jackson to Brookhaven. 

Orientation and Mobility instructor Charlie Hansler said the significance of the trip is it gives the students an opportunity to navigate the real world and have a new experience in the community. The 22 students were all in elementary school so they are working on mobility and cane skills with O&M. One day they will likely have to live centrally located close to a job or use a bus, train or rides hare to get places. 

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“The trip today exposed them to how to use the train with canes and the difference in the stairs,” Hansler said. “It is the only train trip they have. Usually our other trips are on buses. They got to learn how to navigate a train environment.” 

Hansler said visual impairment affects each student differently and the school of the blind has a diverse range. He explained some of his visually impaired students are completely blind and are unable to perceive light, others can perceive light and can tell if they are outside or not. Some students are able to see shadows and shapes but lack clarity. Others are able to see okay but do not have a good visual field while others have a limited visual field. 

The trip hopefully helps students foster independence so they can travel on public transportation safely one day. Hansler said he got involved with the Mississippi School of the Blind because his mom and sister are teachers of the visually impaired. 

“There is an actual need here in Mississippi. I just wanted to go into a field where I could work and do something worthwhile and serve others,” Hansler said. 

Gray Jordan is one of the students at Mississippi School of the Blind. He uses a cane to get around. The experience was fun for him. It was the first time he had ever ridden a train. 

“It was fun, the train took me to sleep. We also got to get off from school,” Jordan said. “I haven’t ridden a train before. I was scared at first but it was fun. I got used to it. Getting up on the train was scary and I wasn’t sure how fast it would go. I thought it would be fast but it wasn’t as fast as the Polar Express we watched in class.” 

He said using the stairs on the train was challenging. They ranged in heights. Jordan added it was fun to meet Santa Claus and receive a blanket, goodie bag and a plush elf from the local elves. He told the local elves from The Barbershop and Paul Barnett Nissan and Barnett Insurance Group “Thank You.”

The Barbershop provided tickets for the train and some of the gifts. Paul Barnett Nissan, Davis Wrecker and Barnett Insurance Group provided food and gifts as well. Kids got to take pictures with Santa Claus before snacking on pizza and sipping hot chocolate. 

The students all bid Santa goodbye when it was time for him to go. Amariyuhhn Lewis enjoyed the trip down to Brookhaven and meeting Santa. 

“It was fun. The train started shaking and I had to get used to it. It felt like an airplane,” Lewis said. “Santa sounded like the real Santa Claus and looked like it. It was nice meeting him too.” 

Carla Snider with Paul Barnett Nissan said it was heart touching to be involved with the special trip.

To learn more about how the Mississippi School for the Deaf and Blind serves students in Mississippi visit their website www.msdbk12.org.