- The Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy in Westmoreland is at the forefront of special needs education and inclusive learning for students living with and without disabilities in western Jamaica.
- The institution 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.
The Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy in Westmoreland is at the forefront of special needs education and inclusive learning for students living with and without disabilities in western Jamaica.
The institution 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 its inception, the institution’s ‘inclusion model’ has helped to transform the lives of children with disabilities by exposing them to educational, speech and physical therapies.
These therapies offer a wide range of intensive, yet fun, learning interventions and activities that are designed to maximise their potential, irrespective of their abilities, to live wholesome lives.
The school’s reputation to deliver quality education to children with special needs in a general classroom setting has grown throughout the years.
Currently, the institution has more than 150 special and non-special needs students enrolled, ranging from three to six years in age.
Rockhouse Foundation Board President, Peter Rose, tells JIS News that having students with disabilities learning side by side with non-special needs students provides every opportunity for both cohorts to “learn and grow together”.
“There are no more than 20 children in the same classroom. There are three adults [to each class] – a teacher, assistant teacher and a caregiver. All of the children here have this opportunity, whether they are children who are typical learners or children with special needs. No matter how they look, walk or talk, they are human beings… and deserve to be treated with the same respect as anybody else,” Mr. Rose explains.
He anticipates the inclusion concept being expanded and adopted in early-childhood, primary and high-school institutions across Jamaica, noting that the model will enable students with special needs to enter the society as productive citizens at the end of their educational career.
Physical Therapist and Educator at institution, Halleah Addiman, says her role over the past two years has been fulfilling, as she and her colleagues have been able to provide “hope and help to these children, their parents and families”.
“We’ve seen many children with different arrays of disabilities and neurological deficits such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy and we have those who are further complicated, whether it is with deafness or partial blindness,” she outlined.
Ms. Addiman says that by virtue of administering rehabilitation and other specifically tailored therapeutic interventions, “the results that we have seen over the period of time have been nothing short of amazing”.
She tells JIS News that there is also an about-face by parents in their initial notions about their children’s’ disabilities, noting that they are more eager to learn how they can become more involved in the therapeutic process.
“Coming in its just like, ‘oh… my kid gets to go to school’. But once they [parents] come in, they get to realise that it is so much more than that. They realise that there is much to be received from being in a programme or structured environment like this one,” Ms. Addiman adds.
She emphasises the importance of the children having a strong family support system that can aid them.
“So when you go home, it’s absolutely necessary that whatever is being done in therapy is being reinforced at home,” she adds.
Ms. Addiman cites a number of success stories born out of the academy where children were able to overcome their physical and cognitive disabilities, pointing out that the school aims to improve on this through its diverse programmes.
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has been monitoring the school’s inclusion model.
Minister with Responsibility for the Portfolio, Hon. Karl Samuda, who toured the institution on October 4, announced that the Ministry aims to replicate the model in schools across the country.
“I also met some remarkable trainers and support staff… people who are trained in managing children with challenges such as the ones that are here [at the academy]. What is remarkable about it is that they can see the development in the children through the help that they are providing,” Minister Samuda stated.
The Ministry’s Region 4 Special Needs Coordinator, Tashikia Sinclair, notes that the academy is laying the groundwork for what will be adopted in the wider sector.
She says the Ministry is committed “to the cause of special education”, adding that the academy’s programmes are in line with this objective.
“There is a space now created for children with disabilities, so they can develop into the greatest potential they were created for. [So] what is happening here [at the academy] is really great for the Western Region. It sensitises persons as to what really needs to happen with students who are disabled or have disabilities,” she points out.
The Rockhouse Foundation has been working in Jamaica for the past 17 years, raising more than US$5 million to develop education in the western end of the island.
It has, to date, transformed and modernised five other institutions. They include the Moreland High, Primary and Infant Schools; Negril All-Age School; Negril Basic School; Little Bay All-Age and Infant School; and the Bunch of Stars Early Childhood institution.
Additionally, the Foundation has renovated and expanded the Negril community library.