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A ‘kindred spirit’ for students

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Speaking their language: teacher Chardala Simons explains a grammar concept with Jack Gazzard (Photograph Supplied)

It’s hard to imagine a teacher having trouble with learning.

As a child, Cindy Corday stuttered and struggled with pronunciation; Lindsey Sirju had a severe speech impediment and spent a long time in speech therapy.

They now share their experiences with their students at Bermuda Centre for Creative Learning.

“I’m very open with the children,” said Ms Sirju, teacher and co-owner of the Reid Street school.

“They see these adults and they think they’ve got it all figured out and we never struggled at school. It’s important for them to recognise that we did.”

Ms Corday, who specialises in early childhood education and school administration, said: “I would count the number of students before me, just hoping that the lesson would stop before it was my time to read.”

Despite those challenges they both knew they wanted to teach from a young age.

“We’re kindred spirits in that we struggled as learners and we want them to understand that not every adult felt that school was easy,” Ms Sirju said.

“I knew what it felt like to be the child whose stomach dropped out when they had a maths test. I knew how to go to the bathroom during reading.

“I knew that I wanted to be the teacher for the child like me.”

The pair met through the Bermuda National Trust’s education committee.

The thrust to open their own school came when their friend Lisa Smart couldn’t find “the right fit” for her daughter Kai, who has auditory processing disorder.

For a brief period, the family moved to the US where the primary school student “flourished”. And then they returned to Bermuda.

“She didn’t have a school to go to that gave her what she needed as a learner,” Ms Sirju said. “Lisa would express her frustrations, so it came out of that.”

Added Ms Corday: “We know that we can work with children with dyslexia. We know that we’ve worked with children with ADHD; children with auditory processing delays. We got really excited about it.

“We already knew that we had the tools, but if we grew, what would we do? We’ve hired teachers with master’s degrees with the intent to mentor them on how to work with children with learning disabilities in this type of environment.”

The school opened in September 2015. A key to its success is “alternative seating”. Students are provided the option of sofas, bean bags and even the floor.

“Exercise balls are a big one. A student with ADHD is really going to need to move,” Ms Corday explained. “That’s why they don’t fit in a traditional school environment.”

Their 16 students, aged 8-14, are grouped by their skill set. The school has a 5:1 student-teacher ratio.

All therapy is done on-site, by external specialists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and physiotherapists.

“They really enjoy meeting with their therapists and it doesn’t impact their day because we plan the schedule around their needs,” Ms Corday said. She has witnessed the children coach each other through their therapies, assessments and learning styles.

Ms Sirju added: “There’s power in a label, if you treat it right. Having the students feel as if they’re among peers — you find someone else who is also dyslexic; you find someone else with auditory processing disorder; you find your people.

“Having them know also what they’re diagnosed with so that you can help empower their learning; that’s a really important part of what we do.”

This is the fourth school that Ms Corday has created. She said early intervention is crucial to their success.

“When there’s a diagnosis and you sit down with your child and explain, the children have this moment where they say, ‘OK, I‘m not broken, I just have dyslexia’,” Ms Sirju said.

“It’s a relief and it’s part of who you are — like your eye colour and your hair colour.

“The reason that there’s power in that is that in order to have a student who advocates for themselves you have to help them come to that understanding really early because if you encourage an eight-year-old to advocate for themself, you’re going to have an 18-year-old who advocates for themself.”

So far, parents have been impressed with what’s on offer, Ms Corday said.

“[They] are saying, ‘It has made such an impact on our family life’. If you get the services that children need and you’re open and you empower you’re children, this could be a real game-changer in Bermuda.”

•An open house will be held on Saturday from 11am to 1pm for prospective parents. For more information visit www.bermudacreativelearning.com

Solution seekers: from left, Lindsey Sirju, Lisa Smart, Cindy Corday (Photograph by Nadia Hall)
Making a change: student Kai Smart and teacher Sandra Neal review a math concept, focusing on money (Photograph supplied)
A step up: CCL students at Victoria Park