JIS News

Fourteen-year old Machel MCalla aspires to become a lawyer. This dream, though ambitious, is nothing special really, until one considers that just five years ago, Machel, considered a slow learner, was extremely limited in his literary and numeracy skills.
His parents, realizing that he could not reach his full potential at the primary school he attended, decided to transfer him to the Woodlawn School of Special Education in Manchester, where he could benefit from specialized attention and care.
“The teachers here have helped me to understand difficult things, and they are very loving,” Machel told JIS News.
“The school that I was before coming here didn’t have teachers, who would spend time with children like me. My reading and numeracy skills have improved, and I feel that my dream to become a lawyer will be realized,” Machel states.
Paulette Spence-Milton, a teacher, who taught Machel at Woodlawn, shares with JIS News the process involved in teaching slow learners. “We spend a great deal of time to help our students pronounce words, we use pictures and others things that they like or feel comfortable with to develop their learning ability. For Machel, his mathematics and reading skills have improved and he is learning fast,” Mrs. Spence-Milton states.
Established in 1968, the institution, located in the town of Mandeville, caters to physically and intellectually challenged children age six to 18 years. In addition to providing remedial education, the institution imparts skills in areas such as carpentry, horticulture, agriculture, home economics and dressmaking. The school also offers free counselling services for parents.
Acting Principal, Christopher Turner, tells JIS News that the aim of the school is to help the students reach their full potential.
“Despite their limitations, we strive to make them productive individuals capable of making valuable contributions to society and themselves, and thereby put them on a path to become independent later on in life,” he states.
Mr. Turner, who started teaching at the institution in 1994, informs that the teachers have to spend time with the students so that they can develop and grow.
“Over the years, it has been very challenging here, but our staff cooperates. We have a team effort and they exert the kind of energy that is required in this type of environment. The children that we train and teach demand special care, and you have to love them in order to cope. One can’t turn up in the morning and leave at the end of their working hours. You have to be there throughout the day for them,” the acting principal points out.
The school is jointly run by the Ministry of Education and the Jamaica Association on Mental Retardation (JAMR). The mission of the JAMR is to create awareness, and lobby for persons with disabilities to have “access to quality education and vocational training, health and other human services and support.”
Currently, there are 78 students enrolled at the institution, with six teachers on staff. An annual graduation ceremony is held each year, where the students are given certificates and other awards for excellence in sports, skills training or vocational work.
“After graduation we, at times, have to seek opportunities for them,” Mr. Turner tells JIS News. “We are seeing now where persons are more receptive to either employ them or take them into their schools than what we experienced in previous years,” he says.
He notes further that “these children, though lacking abilities in some areas, are well capable of participating in a working environment and last year, three of our students took part in the Special Olympics held in China, which was a special moment for all of us.”
Natalee Barrette, who teaches a pre-vocational class, advises that parents can help children with disabilities to utilize and acquire other skills by allowing them to do things that they enjoy doing, as long as they are not in danger.
“Parents don’t need to be overprotective. In developing their abilities, these children need the love and care of parents and other individuals, who will work with them to bring out what might seem impossible. The greatest thing that they need is love. If they don’t get it, feelings of being left out will cripple them and a lot of negatives will follow,” Ms. Barrette points out.