Inaugural Special Needs Class
I have been told by my family that I need to begin featuring more of my work on the blog, as it seems as if all I do is go on vacations! Well, I'd love to have been giving more updates on work, but it has been moving slowly, and didn't really merit a blog post.
However, this past week was the first ever special needs class held in Dzaleka, and we have officially kicked off our program! So that is super exciting and, as much as I'd love to share pictures with you of the children in class, I need to get permission from their parents and JRS prior to being allowed to post them publicly.
We started out with nothing. An idea for a special needs class that seemed to be needed, a list of potential participants who are currently enrolled in the special needs Respite Care program that JRS runs, and two teachers at the JRS schools who have been trained in education for children with hearing and visual impairments but currently are engaged in teaching other classes within the primary and secondary schools.
The teachers, some Respite Care workers, and myself did home visits with the children who were potential students, and spoke with their parents about their abilities. Some of the children have multiple disabilities and others were simply at a disadvantage and missed out on school. We have about 5 children with hearing and speech impairments, 4 with visual impairments, and 6 who have learning or multiple disabilities.
We were given a classroom to use, and my supervisor and I ordered some furniture to be made for it. A few weeks ago, we went to a local shopping centre and bought some classroom supplies and toys. I stocked up the closet, arranged with a co-worker to get some pictures and the alphabet painted on the walls, and did a ton of research on non-verbal communication.
The class is going to be an extremely fascinating experiment, as the children, if they speak, speak Swahili, Kirundi, or Kinyaruanda, or another language - whereas the teachers are Malawian and speak Chichewa and English. So not only do we have the non-verbal barrier with about half the class, we also are speaking in completely different languages most of the time! One of the items that I did a lot of research on was PECS, a picture exchange communication system, and I spent a week collecting images, printing and cutting them out, and laminating them for the class. Hopefully, the ability to choose images to represent activities and emotions will make classroom communication a bit easier.
Another exciting development is that the funding for an additional teacher has been found, so one of the special needs teachers will be relieved of his duties and our class will be able to expand from one day a week to the full week!
I think that the paintings will be completed later on this week, and the rest of the furniture will arrive, and then I can show you pictures of the fully kitted-out classroom.
The first day of class was small - only three children managed to come out. The teachers worked with their parents to create Individualized Education Plans, and I got out the blocks and let them at it. I wanted to see whether they would understand the potential creativity inherent in the blocks. The children built towers - one of them sorted her blocks by colour within the tower, but even when I built a house and other shapes, they simply took them apart to add to their towers. It was very interesting. Then the teacher joined us and we did some more intense learning activities with the blocks - sorting by colour and sorting by size. One of the children caught on very quickly and helped the other two to find their blocks, but the other two took a long time to grasp the concept. We also got out some pencil crayons and paper and let them colour. Two of them mimicked my left-hand writing (oops!) and they all enjoyed creating their masterpieces. The teachers and I wrote their names out on the paper and drew simple shapes for them to try to copy. Again, they were at very disparate levels, and one of the little girls spent most of her time drawing Rs and the shapes we drew for her, while the other two mainly ignored our attempts to get them to copy a shape.
There are plenty of needs in the classroom still - the basics are there, but there is so much more that we could implement to further improve the ability of the children. I am searching for Braille supplies, as we would like to teach the children with visual impairments how to read and write Braille, but need the styluses, frames, and paper. We have some mobility issues to deal with, and are looking for funding for wheelchairs and tricycles for those children. We are also hoping to get the children with visual and hearing impairments to a medical centre to determine what we can do to improve their learning capabilities with hearing aids and glasses, but need to find funding and a specialist in order to do this.
So that's your update on the special needs class! The teachers and I will be running our second class on Wednesday, and are hoping to have a few more attendees.
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Welcome! My name is Katiana and I am a development professional pursuing my dream to live out Isaiah 1:17 to the best of my abilities. I am passionate about teaching and working with vulnerable families and children to improve their lives sustainably.
This blog is composed of my personal opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of institutions or organizations that I may be or have been affiliated with.