Guide Dogs for the Blind, a nonprofit, donation-funded organization, has two campuses: one in Boring, Oregon, and another occupying a lush 11 acres in San Rafael, California -- the site featured in this audio slide show. Busloads of touring K-8 students are a regular feature here; at least three groups make the rounds each school day from September through June -- and with good reason. Kids are charmed by the scores of Labrador retriever and golden retriever puppies, and, out of that affection, come to appreciate the service these dogs will soon provide.
Tom Schaeffer, who teaches third grade at Lu Sutton Elementary School, in Novato, California, says the field trip is part of a broader education in learning about disabilities and about difference. "We try to teach them tolerance," says Schaeffer, "to respect people who are physically impaired."
There are also practical lessons to be learned. Student visitors at Guide Dogs for the Blind learn to ask permission before they pet working guide dogs -- and to recognize that these dogs are in fact on the job, providing a crucial service to their visually impaired companions.
Just as important, says volunteer docent Jane McEwen, the visit helps normalize disabilities for children. "You don't have to be afraid of someone who is blind," says McEwan, "and you don't have to be afraid of a dog. If a dog is working with a visually impaired person, it is important not to disturb that work. But most dogs love kids, and so do most visually impaired people. You have nothing to be afraid of."
Amy Standen is a former contributing editor to Edutopia. She reports on science and the environment for KQED-FM, in San Francisco.