Transitioning to a new school can be daunting for many students, but imagine the added challenges when you have a visual impairment.
Jim Perondi, guidance and mobility specialist at the San Diego County Office of Education, works with visually impaired students to help them navigate school as well as a variety of other important life skills such as: B. Moving around campus safely, opening a stick, and traveling.
“Our goal is to make sure the student can access things safely and independently,” Perondi said. “Once things are learned about campus orientation, we move on to things that the student will need later. Everything a blind or partially sighted student learns has a process. It’s like working for NASA – everything they do up there has a process. I teach how to find your chair, sit securely in the chair, walk down a specific sidewalk and walk up the stairs, which is completely different from walking down the stairs,” Perondi said.
He emphasizes patience and calm as students progress from basic to more complex skills. He works both short and long term with students of all ages in the South County Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) counties, from toddlers in the HOPE Infant Family Support Program to high school students. With older students, they work on skills that ultimately prepare them to receive a guide dog, which requires assessment and a test.
“Jim builds a lot of independence with the kids,” said Olivia Rivera, executive consultant and content lead at South County SELPA. “It never says ‘because you’re blind or partially sighted you’re incapable’. That’s never acceptable. It’s always like, ‘What’s the next goal, what are we going to achieve next year,'” she said.
In order to receive orientation and mobility services under the program, Perondi will assess the student to determine if they qualify. He works with two visual impairment teachers, Tanya Gonzalez and Lauren Ingersoll, and is a member of each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team.
He meets with five or six students on an average day for about 30 to 60 minutes and attends all IEP meetings. He says there’s a delicate balance between teaching academics to kids and safety.
“Reading and math are important, but it’s also important not to get hit by a car,” he explained.
Perondi adds a touch of humor when talking about his work, but recognizes the seriousness of what he does and knows he is trusted to look after students in often dangerous situations. He brings an impressive mix of skills, experience and education that uniquely qualifies him to serve these students and their families.
After college, Perondi worked in campus security at a middle school, helping students with severe disabilities. He studied criminal justice, was an EMT by training and earned a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. At 24, he was preparing to attend the police academy when a blow to the left eye resulted in vision loss. With the police academy no longer possible, he decided to return to training and become a guidance and mobility specialist.
He completed his Masters in Special Education, Guidance, and Mobility at Cal State Los Angeles, which requires testing all abilities — blindfolded. He also has a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and an administrative credential that allowed him to serve as principal for the extended school year at Davila Day School this summer. He also serves as the Crisis Prevention and Intervention Instructor for the County of San Diego.
Rivera said Perondi is the “perfect teacher” who will do anything he can for the students. In 2021, a HOPE Infant Family Support Program student in North County needed an Orientation and Mobility Specialist. No one in the area was available, so Jim agreed to go to North County, meet with family, and make sure the student got the services he needed.
“He’s a good listener, validates parents’ feelings, and always has a good personal connection with the student,” Rivera said. “He cares, is professional, knows the law – is like, I can do this, I can’t do this and that’s why, and always explains. For example, to parents, he explains that these are all the steps that are required and how long it will take for your student to learn to cross the street.”
The fact that he too is visually impaired helps him to better engage with his students and his expertise allows him to thoroughly answer questions from students, staff and parents which helps build confidence. He often covers his one good eye so he can see what his students see so he can help them adapt to a situation or change the environment.
Perondi is in his 16th year and envisions many more good years in the profession as long as he can continue to provide these services to students.
“I work with great people every day,” Perondi said, “there are great teachers, but also this cadre of special services staff in special education that nobody knows much about. They choose to work in education and are passionate about what they do.”
Just as Perondi helps students get through the first days of school, he also helps them prepare for graduation. For many it is the first time on a stage. He helps them get acquainted with the stage and stairs and decide whether to accept the diploma or shake hands first.
“Jim is an amazing person, both personally and professionally,” Rivera said. “When you find a professional who cares about students and families and works 100% full time, that’s a gold mine. That’s why I respect him so much. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t believe that Jim is simply top notch in his performance and dedication to children.”