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Spend a day at special needs school

It’s a bit of an in-joke between me and my friend Rachel G: if things don’t work out for me in London, I can always move to Stroud. Stroud, for the record, is very small – yet the town lies in the beautiful Cotswolds and the views around are pretty marvellous.

As a challenge, Rachel G had invited me to spend a day at St Joseph’s; the post-16 program of St Rose’s school where she works. St Rose’s is a special needs school founded by the Dominican Sisters of St Rose Convent and has provided special education and support for a century. Rachel works as a TA and assists a group of teenagers with a variety of needs: different levels of cerebral palsy, learning difficulties and wheel chair users. She also learned British Sign language to communicate with a student who is deaf. This has always sounded like hard work to me, but Rachel genuinely loves her job invited me for a personal experience.

As the school year is nearly at an end, there were no regular lessons and therapy: the day was spent rehearsing the school play Peter Pan. It is a great example of the extraordinary support St Rose’s staff give to their students: they push wheelchairs on stage, help with recorded lines on voice machines for those with trouble speaking and support the singing. The whole school is involved with students ranging from the ickle ones in the nursery, a mix of mainstream and special needs students,  to primary and the Post-16 group.

I hung out with The PIrates and one student who was the crocodile as he enthusiastically signed to me. ( Yes, I now know the sign for ‘crocodile’, which will no doubt come in handy one day.) I’ll be honest, when I was introduced I was daunted: every student has an individual way of communicating and sometimes it takes time to decipher. Luckily they were kind and patient with my ineptness, unlike other teenagers might be. Still, boys will be boys indeed: as an attractive female member of staff left after conversation with two boys, the two (one who is deaf and the other strapped to his wheelchair) exchanged looks, communicated in noise and then gave each other a knowing fist-bump. Oh, Purrrlease!

The staff’s day is a logistical puzzle as everyone has to be helped from A to B, and assisted with toilet breaks and specific snack/drink needs. I also spent half an hour playing Amy Pond on a Dr Who adventure through the gardens of the school with one of the students, during his one-on-one time. Life at St Rose’s school feels like being part of ‘the ideal family’ whose love and time gives students the care they need to flourish. The fruit is the students’ confidence, not only oozing from the pictures of the many community field trips and educational excursions, proudly displayed on the schoolwalls, but in daily life.  St Rose’s gives students skills for life, and as much as Rachel claims her job doesn’t feel like a job, one day exhausted me: so excuse my gushing admiration for all the staff whose hard work makes the students very happy.

PS: I spoke to one of the students who asked me what I did, so I told him I write. His face lit up: “Are you a blogger?”  Well Ryan, I am – and I just wanted to thank you and your mates for letting me hang out with you. I really enjoyed my day and I hope that the play will go well. Have fun being Pirate Alan, oh and sing loudly because I can’t wait to see the DVD footage of that sea shanty! 😉

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