…as Gifted Hands prepares to commemorate five years
“For too long the Ministry [of Education] has been treating special education needs as a ‘step child’
and there is much in the pipeline at Central Ministry.”
This was the disclosure of Assistant Chief Education Officer, Ms. Donna Chapman, as she addressed a Special Schools Head teachers’ workshop recently.
The workshop, which was held under the theme ‘Professionalism and School Management’, emphasised the need for special education needs to be treated with priority. But according to Principal of the Gifted Hands School for Special Education Needs children, Ms. Marcia Smith, “we are waiting to see what will be the outcome…I am optimistic, but when I see it happen I will be happy. People change and things change and I understand when it goes to Central Ministry there will be a debate as to whether special education needs really need certain amount of funds.”
“The possibility exists that somebody might say ‘oh they don’t need this’ and before you know it the plans for special education needs could die a natural death, along with all the promises,” considered Smith.
But according to Smith, the focus must remain on the fact that “each child has a right to an education…whether it is in a private or public school. The child has a right to an education, according to the Disability Act, in a conducive learning environment.”
Smith is of the view that “the Disability Act is on the shelves of a lot of offices, but I think by now it has gotten cobweb…and is probably not valid to them. But for the persons with disabilities, this Act means a lot, and lots of parents of children with disabilities…they are not educated about this Act.”
She is convinced that if more persons are made aware of the rights that their child with a disability has, “I think things will be different.”
Among the highlights of the recent forum was the need for an inclusion policy, and for officials within the Ministry of Education to meet and decide how much money will be required to fast-track the Special Education Needs programme.
“It is not only having the child with the learning difficulties, you want to make the child a well-rounded individual, whereby they can learn a life skill and even become independent,” said Smith, of the importance of special education.
But it has been just this notion that Smith has been embracing over the years. And she has plans to advance this even further with a view of even finding markets for items created by her students such a potted plants.
“I would look for market for their products and some of the money earned would go back to the child because it is the child’s work, while the remainder we will invest in buying more seeds,” related Smith.
Five years ago, Smith, acting on a vision, decided to open Gifted Hands. Although the school doors opened with barely a handful of individuals with special needs, today it has more than two dozen individuals enrolled
ranging from the ages of eight to 48. Their conditions include Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Down Syndrome, and a few slow learners, among others.
The School since its inception has been accommodated in a section of the Parade Street, Georgetown, Chase Academy School.
According to Smith, because of her prolonged exposure to the children with disability, she has been able to adopt her own style of teaching and interacting with them. This has been working well for Smith, who has been encouraging her two support teachers to adopt her tactics too. But according to her, she is able to easily execute the delivery of special education needs because “this is my passion, this is my love.”
“My faith in God has kept me going,” said Smith, of her will to continue even on the days when things appear to awry.
“This is not a money-making business…I think it is one of the cheapest in terms of fees,” said Smith of her school, which is registered with the National Commission on Disability and the Special Needs Department of the National
Centre for Educational Resource Development.
“I am not registered as a charity to collect people’s money. It is registered as a business and I pay my taxes. If I could’ve done this for free, I would have done it for free…even if a parent is unable to pay for a child I will not send that child home, because that child is already suffering and should not have to suffer twice.”
But Smith had long before prepared for the challenges of the delivery of special education. Her youngest son, Jared, was diagnosed with autism, but has been integrated in the Winfer Gardens Primary, a mainstream public school.
Despite their special needs, Smith said that her students have been progressing well. In fact she disclosed that “My students were able to participate in activities put on by the National Sports Commission [last year]. The students were a part of the disability sport and swim meet…the students got five gold, two silver and three bronze medals,” said Smith as she mused over the fact that the students, come May, will again participate in planned sports events.
Even as she gears to commemorate five years of her school’s existence, Smith’s hope is that within the next five years she will be able to secure a building for her school. She has already been given assurance that once a building is acquired, Digicel Guyana will furnish it. She is convinced that in a building of their own her students will be able to progress even more.
“My hope is that my students will be productive citizens; even if it is to sweep a yard or mop floors…people must not abuse them. Each of them has a gift even if it is to make a bed in a hotel, they must be able to do something for themselves,” said Smith.
As a prelude to the school’s anniversary, today Digicel Guyana will give the students an opportunity to meet members of the West Indies Cricket team which is slated to participate in matches here. On Thursday, students will indulge in their regular swimming activities while on Friday they will be taking a trip to the Joe Vieira Park, West Bank Demerara, for a day of kite flying. However, Smith has plans to prepare tokens for all those who would’ve helped in some way or another to ensure that the operation of Gifted Hands did not fail over the years.
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