Keeping special needs students connected

Tuesday, 05 October, 2021

Keeping special needs students connected

Two Sydney schools that cater for students with special learning needs are finding innovative ways to keep their students engaged during the lockdown.

Arranounbai School in Frenchs Forest and Minerva School in Sutherland have created a range of personalised programs to provide maximum opportunity for pupil success.

When COVID-19 took that challenge to the next level, the schools responded — with everything from a funky music video on school life to a therapy dog and special sensory tools to keep their students engaged.

Premiering to the school and local community on 17 September, Arranounbai’s School Life rap and accompanying video was very much a team effort.

“One of my School Learning Support Officers, Luke Jones, who loves his music, came to me with a song idea about what school life is like during lockdown,” said Arranounbai principal Stephanie Hopkins.

“I welcome anything to keep the kids and school community spirits high and also, not liking to do anything by halves, we decided to make an accompanying video music clip with everyone involved.”

Individual families were asked to film scenes and upload them, with Jones pulling together a fantastic three-minute edit.

“The whole community loved it — we had to play it twice,” said Hopkins.

“This project gave us a focus for the last three weeks of term and connected us all so positively. It has been such an uplifting way to end a very challenging term.

“I am so proud of everyone and so grateful that Luke has used lockdown to benefit the entire school community so positively.”

Similarly, Minerva School has used a range of tools to engage their students during a tricky time.

First, the school developed visual representations to help students understand what COVID-19 was and why they couldn’t go to school.

For the school’s younger students in kindergarten to Year 3, teacher Carolyn Wemyss provided individual educational work packages and created a class-specific website with online activities uploaded daily.

“The page includes very specific information across all key learning areas, including a fine motor skills page where students continue working on hand strength and a mental health page incorporating mindfulness and yoga activities to help students with their wellbeing,” she said.

“We have also provided students with an individual sensory toolbox, enabling families to replicate the sensory activities the students would typically do at school, including bubble machines, scooter boards and kinetic sand.

“A critical component of the focus for K–3 students has been on maintaining social connections, which we have done through daily Zoom lessons, a weekly whole-school assembly and whole-school Zumba sessions.

“Some of our students have high levels of anxiety and attachment disorders, so we have also maintained their connection and familiarity with all staff across the school.

“We also sent our students in K–3 a postcard with a personal message and photo of our school therapy dog Ted, who has brought a wonderful sense of calm and positivity to the entire school community.”

The school continues to work with external health providers for support. The families of students also haven’t been forgotten, receiving care packs as a way of saying thanks for their support during a difficult time.

“During the COVID experience and lockdown restrictions, these programs and the goals embedded within them have remained the key focal points to ensure our students are being supported through online learning across all domains: educational, social, mental health, sensory and emotionally,” Minerva principal John Mazzitelli said.

“Ongoing feedback from our school community has been positive and they are so grateful for the outstanding level of educational, emotional and wellbeing support that has been offered by the entire staff at Minerva School for all the students.”

Image caption: It’s a wrap — Arranounbai School marked the end of the term with a musical video which features on the school’s home page.

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