AN ACT OF CARING: Trained staff interacting with students at the Kingston-based school.
Serenity reigns at the STEP Centre, an independent school for kids with special needs, off Mountain View Avenue in Kingston, boasting cool and calm interiors, well-lit and airily ventilated rooms, thanks to aid from the Digicel Foundation, and team of educators fiercely committed to their mission of providing a well-rounded education for their pupils, in spite of myriad hurdles.
"We're trying to show how co-operative work with the government, us as an independent school and corporate bodies like the Digicel Foundation can help to provide a service," says headmistress Hilary Sherlock, who is a big fan of the collaborative process, "and it's a service which has long been neglected."
Started some 20 years ago by two moms who wholeheartedly believed that their children had the right to a solid education, in spite of their physical/psychological conditions, the Centre was first housed at the St. Margaret's Church in Liguanea until, "we outgrew that," says Sherlock, a staunch believer in community service who's been with the school for the past 14 years. "We were able to get this piece of land, and then the Digicel Foundation, which does a tremendous amount of work with children with special needs, provided the funding for the building.
When construction was completed this past June, the staff, students and admin team were able to move into their new home in the summer to commence what represented a fresh start. "This new building allows us to consolidate our programme. Our children have multiple learning challenges. They develop differently, and we get children with a lot of motor problems," the headmistress tells TALLAWAH, "so it's really difficult for other schools, even special schools, to accommodate them."
A walk through the wonderfully airy space reveals staff (a handful of trained teachers and teaching assistants) engaged in interactive sessions clearly designed to enhance the learning experience. Now, Sherlock tells me, what would make the surroundings truly complete, are an outdoor sensory garden and a playground. Financially, it's a big challenge, but as far as dealing with the children goes, we've developed a good programme. We've got great support," Sherlock says. "We have this lovely building so making use of it is a pleasure. We don't have all the equipment, but we're getting there. We look at ourselves as very fortunate."
>> To learn more about the institution and their mission (and to find out how you can help), go to thestepcentre.com.