With its colourful superhero pictures on the classroom walls, teeny tiny chairs and tables and adorable children dressed in shiny new school uniforms – this looks like your average prep class starting off the school year.
But the St Paul’s College Bridging Program is different – it gives children who have a disability or developmental delay one year of additional preparation for entry into a mainstream school.
And according to Bridging Program teacher Melanie Weinberg – the key ingredient behind helping students with special needs is the smaller class sizes.
This year the program, which has been running for more than seven years, has 14 students in two classrooms.
“It gives us a chance to really be creative in a small setting,” Ms Weinberg said.
“Even behaviours, behaviours can be really challenging. In a small setting it allows us to really iron that out.”
The Bridging Program works in partnership with parents and the mainstream school of the parents’ choice to help the student transition into that school.
Parents Miriam and Tom (pictured) admit they were daunted about the prospect of sending their son William, who has Down syndrome, to the local school of 600 students, where their older daughter attends.
They used the Early Childhood Intervention Services at Villa Maria Catholic Homes and when they heard about the Bridging Program thought it would be ideal for William.
“I would be really worried about him if he was just jumping straight into school,” Miriam said.
“With the transition to that more formal learning, it’s going to be quite a big leap for him to sit and concentrate and focus on the task and follow instructions, which has not been required of him in kinder.
“I think the teachers here have loads of skills in helping him do that, which he probably wouldn’t have otherwise.”
And so far, so good. William, who loves dancing and music, is enjoying the program which includes a music program.
“We talk about school at home and he’s excitied and he likes it. He’s really looking for the social interaction and the learning,” Miriam said.
In term one the students learn about the structures and rules of a classroom and the smaller class size allows the teachers to provide students the additional support they may need to master these classroom routines.
In term two the students spend two days of each week at the mainstream school with their Bridging Program teacher on hand to help the student and also the prep teacher.
The ultimate goal is for the student to become independent enough to become a part of the mainstream school and for their new school to have best tools to support them.
“This program sets parents up, it sets teachers up and it sets schools up,” Ms Weinberg said.
“It’s also about supporting families, giving them some hope that they can keep going and they can still have choices.”