A school where being different is normal
Fitting in at school can be the difference between success and failure.
For pupils with learning differences, finding a place to learn that not only accepts their differences but helps them thrive has been invaluable for the parents of Joshua Kelly.
Joshua, 10, was diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, when he was a month old.
His mother, Shirley Kelly, said those diagnosed with Prader-Willi can often show mild to severe learning disabilities, so she and her husband, Shannon, knew to watch for any signs of problems.
By the time he was in his second year at Somersfield Academy, it was becoming financially difficult for the family to pay for school, his therapies and a para-educator.
The family took Joshua out of school and started to look at alternative schooling.
Ms Kelly, a teacher, said: “We had no concrete plans at the time. We knew we weren’t prepared to send him overseas alone, so home schooling was our top option. But God certainly had it all laid out for us.”
The couple heard about the Bermuda Centre for Creative Learning and the family enrolled him at the school.
At the time, the school, which is dedicated to helping pupils with learning difficulties by provision of a non-traditional learning environment, was in its early stages.
Ms Kelly said, that three years on, Joshua “simply loves school”.
Joshua added: “I like reading books and playing Kahoot in math class, we get to work on math problems online. I also like when we swim at the National Stadium — I’m a fast swimmer.”
The school has adapted and accommodated Joshua’s learning difficulties.
Joshua said: “It’s hard to write sentences. My teachers give me special paper with lines that helps make my writing neater.
“When I first came to BCCL, it was hard for me at first to go on walks to the parks but now it’s easy because I’m used to it.
“Reading was also hard, but I read at school and also with my mom and dad at home ,and I got a lot better.”
Ms Kelly added: “My son and many like him thrive on order. BCCL is very organised.
“The school is also flexible where it matters. Everything they do is with our kids in mind and not an added accommodation as is the case in traditional schools.
“This makes our kids feel normal and accepted, rather than a diversion from business as usual. The teachers are all specialised and supportive. They genuinely care about the kids and it shows.”
Extra therapy, such as speech and occupational therapies, are part of the school day.
Ms Kelly said the advantage was that it allowed for more family time instead of running between appointments after school.
Lindsey Sirju, BCCL co-founder, added: “Joshua and the Kelly family, represent what is possible when schools and families partner together to help a child succeed.
“Joshua, like all children with learning differences, needs a whole-team approach.
“At BCCL, we are able to provide that for him because of our small student-to-teacher ratio and the ability to personalise students’ learning,”
Ms Kelly said: “Joshua gets frequent, timed breaks and short, intense work periods, in which he is expected to work.
“That level of accountability is very warming as he’s getting essential skills for his future.”
The school has used different technologies to help pupils and Joshua has a specialised reading pen.
Ms Kelly said: “They are very open to seeking the best methods to reach each student individually.”
She added that Joshua had thrived in an environment that embraced his learning difficulties and had “owned his challenges in a very mature manner”.
Ms Kelly said: “He is aware of his many diagnoses and sees them in a positive light. My favourite thing to hear him say is, ‘Did you know so-and-so has dyslexia/ADHD/a learning disability too? She/he is very smart’.
“He’s learnt that a diagnosis does not preclude intelligence and success and he’s not ashamed, or upset, or hurt that he has special learning needs.
“He’s always been very outgoing and friendly, and I’m happy that he gets to thrive in an environment where different is normal.”
Robyn Bardgett is a media communications consultant working with BCCL. BCCL enrols students beginning at age 7. To support their growing enrolment, the school is moving to a larger facility in Hamilton in September. Visit bccl.bm for more information
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