By Robyn Bardgett
The island’s organisations that work with students with specialized learning needs made some necessary, but positive, changes to continue to provide services to their students, even when the year has continued to prove challenging.
In a perfect world all learning would be created as individualized programmes, knowing that so many children have different learning styles. But while many children are able to excel and learn through mainstream education, there are children who need a more specialized approach to their learning.
The island is served by schools, organizations, and programmes that ensure that every child – no matter how they learn – can thrive throughout their education and beyond.
The past year has been challenging for many, but for the organisations that work with children who learn and think differently they had to find a way to shift to continue to provide a dynamic learning environment for their students.
Many met the challenges and found new and inventive ways to provide their services.
While Tomorrow’s Voices Autism Early Intervention Centre has always geared their programme to the individual needs of their students with autism and other developmental differences, their staff was able to integrate “virtual platform skill acquisition” to make sure their clients continued to receive services virtually when the Centre closed, and for any closures that may occur again in the future.
“Although we were presented with challenges and obstacles, thinking outside the box to ensure that our clients were still provided with services presented a silver lining for both our clinical environment and our clients,” said Thea Furbert, Tomorrow’s Voices chairwoman and co-founder.
“To ensure that our clients were not affected greatly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the team worked hard to add in teaching methods and technology that would help with seamless services. Although we had to suspend some of our programmes in March of 2020 due to the high incidences of COVID-19 cases, we are now back to running all of our programmes to ensure our special individuals do not lose out.”
The Centre was able to continue its in-house programme and this year they were able to provide their incredibly successful social skills and summer programmes in-person.
This year, the Centre is also piloting their adult services programme “to ensure we are supporting clients throughout their lifespan.”
Particularly during a stressful time within the community, which the pandemic has and continues to have, having a continuum of services is essential, Mrs Furbert added.
At the Bermuda Centre for Creative Learning, where students are provided with a personalised and flexible learning environment, teachers were also able to adapt their instruction regardless of whether they were learning in the classroom or at home.
“It was important to us that students still received a personalized approach while in daily small group lessons during shelter-in-place order,” said BCCL’s co-founder and head of school, Cindy Corday. “This dedication ensured that students continued to find academic success, despite the pandemic.”
The school had also established its Social and Emotional Learning Action Plan, which was introduced in 2019, “which positively impacts teacher-student interactions as well as how students work with each other,” added Mrs Corday.
That has been a huge part of the success of their students in their interactions, and in particular the past year. The school also makes opportunities for their students to have specialized services during the school day, and they are adding a Speech and Language Therapist to their team this year to provide even more seamless coverage for their students.
One of the benefits that pivoting to prepare for any impacts of COVID-19 that Tomorrow’s Voices found included ways to continue to benefit their clients as the new school year begins.
“Some of the silver linings that have developed as a result of pivoting during the initiation of COVID-19 protocols include a higher level of flexibility seen from our clients, the ability to virtually provide consulting training to parents by walking them through strategies that will assist them and their leaner in the household, teaching some of our learners how to engage across a virtual platform, shifting our community training to virtual platforms that now allows us to reach a wider audience, and offering virtual on-demand workshop to parents that they can watch at their leisure.”
One of the important services that the Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy provides for their students is their summer camp programme, which runs during the month of July and is particularly helpful for parents of students that have more profound learning challenges and are need of more complex care.
“The programme’s primary goal is for students to continue to work on their current Individualised Education Plan goals and reinforce the skills they have mastered during the school year,” said Education Minister Diallo Rabain at a June press conference.
Along with targeted academic, behavioural and therapeutic interventions for their students, Hope Academy also works with community outreach programmes, such as WindReach, which continues to help enrich the lives of the Hope Academy students through its education and recreation activities, such as their therapeutic riding programme.
During the pandemic, WindReach provided remote learning packages to its partner programmes, to continue to provide learning opportunities during stay-at-home orders for individuals involved in the charity’s programmes.