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Getting drenched was so much fun!

Wet, wet, wet: A water fight was all part of the fun at Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy(Photograph by Nadia Hall)

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky yet everyone at the Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy was drenched.

Teachers, students and volunteers all took part in the school’s HSBC-sponsored “Back to School Fun Day” yesterday. Wayne Scott, the Minister of Education, opened the event by initiating a water fight. The colourful playground was enhanced with sprinklers, water blasters, wading pools and a fun castle.

Natalie Barnett-Dill of HSBC said the aim was to create an environment that “will enhance the children’s outside experience”.

As part of HSBC Bermuda’s ongoing Community Action Day Volunteer Programme, the bank’s staff provide support in a variety of activities.

Next week, volunteers will assist with painting the school and restoration of the gardens that were impacted by last year’s hurricanes. Plans to plant a sensory garden are also under way. School social worker Julie Lynn said it was part of their “Horticultural Therapy” initiative.

The programme provides all permanent HSBC Bermuda staff with time off from work to volunteer with preselected projects focused on education, the environment and the community. To date, HSBC staff members have volunteered almost 8500 hours of community service.

Sodden school principal Margaret Phillips told The Royal Gazette: “I’ve had two buckets, plus the spray gun. I hope you’re ready to get wet!”

The school provides education and support for children with special needs. Ms Phillips said: “It’s a lot of fun and a blessing.

“There are so many people who didn’t seem to know what Dame was or if they did it was without a complete understanding of the kinds of services that are offered here. As an expat I was truly stunned by that because it’s such a small island and this building houses fantastic resources.”

The Hope Academy’s staff includes four teachers as well as a minimum of two parent educators in each classroom and also provides, for students that require additional assistance, one-on-one support. They have therapists that focus on speech and language, occupational therapists and adapted physical education teachers, one of which services children on an individual basis. They provide group therapy, a driver, a nurse and a custodian.

“Anybody else in this hemisphere would kill for something like this,” said the principal.

“I have spoken to friends and colleagues back at home, stateside, from the UK, from Canada, and they are hard-pressed to find this kind of a resource.

“This is a fantastic place to work. The children make me get up in the morning every day because they’re a pure example, I think, of how we’re to live. They deal with a lot of struggles every day, but there’s still a smile. They’re very grateful for what they experience every day.”

Most of the students at Hope Academy are dealing with multiple disabilities, a lot of them very visible.

“What is different can sometimes be scary, off-putting, whatever, but many people have come in and they’ve realised that while our students have disabilities, they’re children first. And they begin to see the child. Who can resist them?” Ms Phillips said.

“And when they meet students with disabilities the reaction is one of sympathy and not empathy. It’s a natural reaction, but once you get to know the children you begin to see them as children first. They get up to tricks just like anybody else. And they push your buttons just like anybody else and they give joy and they’re really, really appreciative.

“I think ours is a phenomenal community and we’re so blessed to have the partnership now of HSBC. The children have so many things that they have to deal with, I think they deserve just every bit of support they can get.”

The school admits children as young as four, supporting them through their school career up to the age of 19. They have 19 students, but have the capacity for as many as 24.

Ms Phillips added: “Age-wise and need-wise, it’s a multiplicity of needs, which demands a lot of expertise and it demands if you’re going to do it well then you’re giving you have to give everything because you are not necessarily going to see the gains that you would in a typical classroom.”