Unique journeys at Footprints Special Needs School

| November 15, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Sharon Rowe

I used to run a mainstream Grade R class, adjoined to a mainstream private school. The school included the term “inclusive” in its core principles.

I watched how a cerebral palsy pupil with left hemiplegia (paralysis on the left vertical half of the body) tried so hard to achieve what her mainstream peers did. Yet, when it was time to move into Grade 1, this child with barriers to learning was excluded because she would be using a computer to do most of her work, in isolation from the rest of the class. A number of teachers also felt that they could not cope with the extra demands of such an arrangement.

So, in April 2004, the concept and planning started for the foundation phase of Footprints Special Needs School. I purchased a house in Randburg, Johannesburg, Gauteng and began with renovations and, in January 2005, our doors opened with two pupils, a teacher, an assistant and myself. The school grew to four classes, four teachers and three assistants over the years. In 2008, the parents of the older pupils were struggling to find an appropriate school for their children to move to. A house one away from the foundation phase school came onto the market, we planned our intermediate/senior phase and opened the new establishment’s doors in January 2009. Residents in the area were initially against a school opening in their neighbourhood, but after winning a high court case, we were finally on track again.

Residents in the area were initially against a school opening in their neighbourhood, but after winning a high court case, we were finally on track again.

Now, our junior phase has four groups, after which pupils join an intermediate class and a senior class. Our programmes change each year, dependent on the needs of our pupils and what goals we are working on helping them to achieve.

Success stories we can share

Zee* is a drowning survivor. When she arrived the school at the age of six, she was unable to walk, speak or write. A team effort between staff and her peers enabled Zee to walk independently. Technology played a huge part in helping Zee have a voice. Because of her iPad, we could establish that she was able to read and had a fair ability to master maths. Last year, after our school camp, and for each of her class speeches, Zee presented her work via her iPad. Academically, she is making progress.

Kat* joined us at the age of 14 years, after being turned away from schools because she presented a low IQ, due to a lack of adequate language comprehension. After two years with us, Kat went on to train as a manicurist. We guided her towards this career path because of her pride in her looks and her creativity. Kat also went on to study travel and tourism after her beauty studies.

Tina* started with us when she was six years old. She was from a single-parent home, where her grandparents played a significant role in her upbringing. When Tina turned 10, her grandparents felt she was ready to move to another school, despite our advice that we felt she was not yet ready. After three months in her new school, the grandparents and her mother asked if Tina could return to Footprints. We found that she had not only gained excessive weight, but had regressed emotionally due to being teased and not able to cope with a faster-paced school. We had to go back and rebuild many areas. After a year and nine months, we told her caregivers that she was ready to move. She went to a bigger remedial school and even after her mother passed away tragically, she was still coping well in the big environment in all areas: emotionally, socially, academically and physically.

Technology a lifeline

Technology has made learning fun for our pupils and our staff. We use computers, tablets and interactive whiteboards. Visual graphics provide a golden opportunity for teachers and learners. For our non-verbal pupils, digital tools give them a voice and a means to show their abilities. Our pupils with low muscle tone and who find writing difficult can now participate through using tablets. We do not give up the traditional pen and paper method or the reading of books, and ensure that social interaction is still a main part of the daily life skills programme. Our technology times are limited to specific lessons each day, except
for pupils whose programmes depend on their devices. Balancing each child’s programme is extremely important.

We focus on integration with integrity

As colleagues at Footprints, we often discuss why it should be that many people feel that if a person looks or acts differently, they have no mental ability or skills to offer society.

So-called “special needs” children do not have a perfect “spider web”. Their body may be that of a 14-year-old, hormonally they may be at a 15-year-old level, they may have the social skills of an 11-year-old and the emotional skills of an eight-year-old, and academically they may function like a nineyear- old. However, they are still a whole person. Our goal at Footprints is to open people’s minds to accepting that we are all different and should be allowed to be part of society where we conform to acceptable social behaviour.

We focus on each child’s individual interests, needs and strengths while ensuring they are growing into able and valuable citizens with unique skills to offer to society.

Take a fresh look at time

I have personally learned so much from our pupils. One pupil, who was with us for four years before he passed away, will always hold a very important place in my heart, as the lesson I learnt from him bodes well for me in every area of my own life. Daniel was a Down syndrome child. He refused to be rushed and would always stop to look at everything, especially the flowers outdoors. He helped me to fully understand the meaning of “stop and smell the roses”.

Life is for living, and we do need to remember to “look” at everything around us and everyone we come across. They have a lesson to teach us.

Category: Summer 2016

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