Parents of children with special needs that don’t fit inside the mainstream schooling models can have a difficult time finding appropriate education for their son or daughter in Singapore. Melbourne Specialist International School (MSIS) has opened in response to that demand. Jayne Nadarajoo, founder of eight White Lodge preschools and kindergartens, and Juliet Cooper, who moved from Australia in September to become principal of MSIS, explain what the new school is all about.
Why did you start MSIS?
Jayne: During 15 years at White Lodge I’ve seen that not every child is suited to move on to a mainstream school, or the resources are just not able to accommodate them, and they have nowhere to go. We’ve seen a trend of families relocating to other countries to find a suitable school. In a country like Singapore, that’s not good enough; these children, both local and expatriate, deserve better.
What learning programmes do you offer?
Jayne: I visited many schools offering different programmes, but it was the Port Phillip Specialist School (PPSS) in Melbourne that was most impressive, and seemed the most suitable for what I hope to achieve. Offering a watered-down mainstream curriculum, as some schools do, was not an option. PPSS offers an original, accredited and purpose-designed programme with a focus on learning through the visual and performing arts. We also have plans for The Pantry to become a vocational hub that provides learning and opportunities for young people with special needs including: work related skills, occupational health and safety, industry specific skills and travel training.
Juliet: As deputy principal at PPSS, every day I saw the practical results of having dance, music, art, drama and physical therapy as the basis for learning. It’s a unique and fun way both to teach and to learn functional English, mathematics and independent living skills. For example, we teach the words and adding skills that students need to know to function in the community, so they can go to the shop independently and buy their lunch safely, without being taken advantage of.
We teach this in numerous ways, while the children are actively engaged with learning. For example, through counting steps in dance and through sport, students can learn about space, shapes and counting.
Who is suited to MSIS?
Jayne: Children with special needs who do not fit into any of the current school models. It doesn’t mean they are not good enough, rather that their strengths lie elsewhere.
Juliet: Every child has an assessment, and then an individual learning plan is devised in conjunction with therapists and parents, based on the student’s personal goals. My 14-year-old son Monty, who has an intellectual disability, is also attending MSIS.
Describe a typical school day for a student at MSIS.
Juliet: Depending on their individual learning plan, a student’s day might include a session at Sky Gym, English lessons, dance, art, outdoor play, maths, ball sports and bike-riding. We take into account a child’s individual learning needs; they may do traditional academics for 10 minutes, and then take a break for 10 minutes, for example.
Students with autism or other special needs often need more sensory stimulation and regular movement, so we have resources such as trampolines in the classroom. Others like the tents and cloud sacks, which provide a sense of enclosure and wellbeing. Once that need is satisfied, the students are able to focus on the classroom activity.
Tell us about your cool stuff.
Juliet: I’m a bit of a tech geek and did my second master’s degree in Information Communication Technology. So I love to integrate technology and its numerous benefits into all my classrooms. We have touch tables, interactive whiteboards, iPads and video facilities to help us observe students and follow their progress. For partially verbal and non-verbal students, there are apps to help them communicate; these are introduced in consultation with speech therapists.
Jayne: Other resources include a dance and music studio, a life skills classroom, a Sky Gym (importantly accessible by kids in wheelchairs) and indoor and outdoor trampolines, plus numerous specialist teachers, including teachers of dance and music.
Why this location in Loewen Gardens?
Juliet: I was thrilled when I saw the site: it’s lush and green and has so much outdoor space. Movement is very important for these children, so as well as using the Sky Gym daily, we will introduce a cycling and aquatic programme. I plan to put in a kitchen garden where students can plant seeds, watch them grow, cultivate them, harvest the produce and bring it into the life skills classroom to use in cooking.
Need to know
- Places for 65 to 90 students
- 45-week school year
- Full-day school, 9am to 3pm
- Current site caters for ages four to 16
Melbourne Specialist International School, 75C Loewen Road, Dempsey Hill, 6634 8891
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