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The Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy in Westmoreland.

The proposed expansion of the Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy in Westmoreland to a fully inclusive early-childhood, primary and secondary school will assist in providing access to higher education for children with disabilities.

The expansion is being facilitated under the second tranche of a two-part memorandum of understanding signed between the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, and the Rockhouse Foundation.

The initial tranche facilitated the institution’s construction in 2016, while the second will allow for the planned expansion.

The Ministry will provide teachers for the newly upgraded institution, and access to in-service training and support material as well as physical, speech and developmental therapists.

Additionally, the Ministry will provide other support inputs, including medical personnel. This will be facilitated in collaboration with the Ministries of Health and Wellness, and Labour and Social Security.

This inclusive model of a mixed ability/special needs early-childhood institution seeks to address the demand for these specialised services in rural communities.

Rockhouse Foundation President, Peter Rose, tells JIS News that the school’s expansion is critical in ensuring the children continue to receive specialised educational support to enable them to make a smooth transition to higher education.

“There is no other school like this in the public sector in Jamaica. If we [provide specialised education] for children at the infant level and then send them on their way to just any school, then all the progress that they made in their early years will be lost over time,” he notes.

Against this background, Mr. Rose says it is imperative “for us to take this [approach] straight through to high school”.

This, he maintains, in order that the children “can get the full benefit throughout their educational career, below the tertiary level, with the therapies that they require and the quality of instruction that all children deserve”.

Noting that the school’s expansion will require additional qualified teachers and specialists, Mr. Rose says the school is actively engaged in recruiting these professionals.

Highlighting the deficit of qualified specialists locally, Mr. Rose says the Foundation has forged a partnership with Howard University in the United States to provide professional development training and practicums for teachers, to increase the complement of personnel in these specialised areas.

It is intended that out of the partnership will emerge established online degree programmes for these disciplines.

“This is our vision, not just for the Savanna-la- Mar Infant Academy but schools throughout the country, thereby amplifying what we are doing at this one location, and have it impact throughout the island,” he says.

Noting that inclusive education creates an environment that enables diverse students to learn side by side in the same classroom, Mr. Rose says the Foundation aims to assist in transforming learning spaces to provide critical support for all youngsters.

There are 166 students, aged three to six, currently enrolled at the institution.

Class sizes are limited to 20 pupils, with each being managed by a main teacher, an assistant teacher, and a caregiver.

The school caters to regular learners as well as children with physical and developmental needs.

“What we do is full inclusion, and that means there is no pull-out of children with special needs. They are side by side with typical learners and, in that way, those children with special needs and the children who are typical learners have a much more enriched educational experience,” he emphasises.

The Savanna-la-Mar Infant Academy was established in 2017 by the Rockhouse Foundation in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and the Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica, among other local and international partners.

It is Jamaica’s first public educational institution that caters to students with and without disabilities.

Since 2004, the Foundation has invested more than US$6 million in building, expanding, and renovating seven public schools and the community library in Negril, Westmoreland.

In addition, since March 2020, the Foundation has been distributing food each week to persons affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

More than 100 tonnes of food have been distributed, which has benefited more than 1,000 people in Western Jamaica.

All the Foundation’s administrative and marketing costs are underwritten by the Rockhouse Hotel and Skylark Negril Beach Resort, among other interests.

All donations go directly to the projects and programmes spearheaded by the organisation.

To donate to the Foundation, visit https://rockhousefoundation.org/.

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