The majority of parents who have children with special needs agonise over where would be the best place to send their child to be educated. Every parent, no matter what ability their child has, wants to be secure in the knowledge that they will be well educated, safe and happy.
Luckily for the parents in Dunmanway Co. Cork Ireland and the surrounding area the answer is right on their doorstep. St Mary’s National Senior School has a state of the art special needs unit attached to the mainstream primary school which caters for children with different levels of disability.
Marjorie Farr currently has a child with autism attending this unit since 2006 and can’t praise it high enough. When her daughter was diagnosed she and her husband Mark felt “like the bottom had fallen out of our world”. She worried about where she would send her daughter to school. She did not realise that the answer to her worries was only a stones throw away.
The unit boasts two state of the art classrooms manned by two teachers and S.N.A.’s in each class who are fully qualified to help all types of children with special needs. Other facilities they possess are a multi-sensory room and a specially designed playground. About the Special Needs unit Mrs. Farr said, “The facilities here are second to none with first class classrooms, multi-sensory room and playground…but the real plus for us is the special teaching these children get from the very caring and professional staff.”
Another happy mother is Eilish Crowley who has seen her son go from strength to strength since transferring him from a mainstream school two years ago. “He’s got a lot more confidence, a lot more support and it’s going to make his transition from national to secondary school ten times easier.”
The difference that Mrs. Farr has seen in her daughter since sending her to this school is immense. “All children take part in group work but also have individual programmes which are tailored to meet their individual requirements.” This is a very important point that is stressed by the school. The programmes are specific to the child therefore the best progress can be made. Every child has different abilities and this is taken into account when the programmes are being designed.
As the unit is attached to the mainstream school there are many advantages that it benefits from. The children with special needs integrate with the mainstream children for lunch breaks and some classes such as PE, reading, drama and dancing. They also learn cookery. Mrs. Crowley is delighted with this fact as her son “is included in everything…its just fantastic.” Mrs. Farr is particularly impressed by the buddy system instilled in the school. “The girls from the mainstream become reading buddies for the special classes, devoting a lot of their lunch times and free periods helping the special needs children master their reading.” The children also take part in the local agricultural show each year. Here they show off their talents in the arenas of arts and crafts and painting which are taught to them in the school.
The unit is also very closely located to the new CoAction centre. The CoAction Multi-Disciplinary Team here works with the children in the special needs unit giving speech therapy, occupational therapy, social work and physiotherapy on a regular basis. This is a great service as it is incorporate into their programmes and they do not need to contact these services after the school day. This ensures that all children get everything they need within the school hours.
For Mrs. Farr and her daughter the unit has turned what could have been “a very emotional and turbulent time” into a very beneficial and pleasant experience. Mrs. Crowley is convinced that being in this unit puts less pressure on her child as he is just like everyone else. She adds, ‘To anyone who is still deciding I would recommend it one hundred percent.’ This unit is there to support children with special needs and to equip them with life skills. It is a great amenity in the town and should be used to its full advantage.
(text published in ‘The Southern Star’ 26 March 2011)