There are a number of factors at the school that are important:
It is family controlled
It is run on best practice, evidence based guidelines
Because of the complexity of our students, it uses both health and educational input,
with a multidisciplinary team
It aims to support the whole family’s needs, and focus on strengths rather than weaknesses.
This describes a type of support known as wraparound, which began in America in the 1970’s, and has a great deal of research supporting it’s use in families with complex issues. How we succeed in achieving those aims is up to the judgement of the families involved, but it lies behind every thing that we try to do at the school.
Wraparound Kids is an Australian developed (once again by someone who had family experience of adolescents with these issues) structure for providing the multidisciplinary team meetings, and recording them on a secure internet site for access by important people in the student’s life.
We aim for our students to participate in their community, to support their mental and physical health, to cover the formal academic subjects, to develop social skills and the ability to get on with others, and to encourage their skills and enjoyment of the arts.
We use community facilities as much as possible. Our students thus visit the library, local shops, gyms and the pool, and use the ovals and the walking track. We knew that physical education and mental health education are very important for our students, as are social skills and language teaching.
As well as follow current research, the school wishes to contribute to knowledge of managing students with these issues, and has been involved in several research projects, which will also support refinement and improvement in what we do.
EdSpace is a project of Capability Building Inc, a not for profit organisation which has it’s own council. This arrangement is common among independent schools including the Catholic and Anglican systems, where the organisation has more roles than only running a school.
EdSpace has a School Board consisting of elected parent representatives, a representative from Capability Building Inc, and the principal as an ex officio member. The Board develops and ratifies school policies and makes decisions on school development. It is important that everyone involved works together. Board and employee members need to be mindful that they have a legal obligation to advance the school’s interests and not bring it into disrepute.
I am who I am
As parents and educators we need to remember that we do not change who our students are. Their particular issues are lifelong. What we can do is minimise the impact of their difficulties by supporting them to learn. This is very important. The difference between a talented amateur and an Olympic medallist is good coaching and training. All of our students have the capacity to learn, achieve and succeed. This is why it is important to focus on strengths rather than difficulties.
We also need to be aware that our students have developmental delay, which means that they may achieve their goals later in life that some others.
Learning to Learn
An important part of success at EdSpace is a safe environment and stress management. When someone is stressed they are not able to learn new things, and they tend to lose the skills that they already know.
As a rule, sitting in a classroom listening or reading is less effective for learning (especially for our students) than other strategies that engage all of the senses. Experiential learning and Applied learning means learning in a particular environment while engaged in an activity. It is allows access to experiences that the students would otherwise not have outside of Edspace, and is also important in learning how to transfer skills learned in one setting to another. It uses the skills developed in the classroom setting to put the learning into context in real life, to perform a task.
To learn best, our students need very small groups, with lots of visual instruction and structure, consistent support, but the flexibility to deal with problems when they arise.
Our students have short recess times at school, as this is the time of day when most problems occur in mainstream schools (because of lack of structure). This compensates for the fact that our students don’t do homework. They cover more work at school, and there is little evidence that homework makes much difference in this context. Having said that, some of our students choose to do homework voluntarily!
Many of our students need scaffolding in areas to help them learn. This means using tools to help them deal with areas that they find difficult, so that they can concentrate on the important things that they need to learn. This can be as simple as tools like a spell checker, dictionary or calculator, or more complex tools that help with generating ideas or decision-making. These tools are in widespread use in the adult world. For example it is not helpful to spend so much time learning to handwrite legibly that the student doesn’t have enough time to learn more important literacy (have you ever read a doctor’s handwriting?).
EdSpace offers a highly structured environment with an emphasis on appropriate use of Information Technology (IT) for delivery of programs. Students have access to mainstream subjects modified for the individual student with an emphasis on human relations and living skills, including sexual health. Individual education plans are devised through team assessment with a focus on student strengths. EdSpace is registered to provide the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL), a hands-on option for years 10 to 12.
On successful completion of VCAL students receive a certificate and a statement of results that details the area of study completed. Vocational education and training (VET) programs provide a pathway for students’ interests and credits towards VCAL.
EdSpace currently provides internal and external VET courses. Currently, internal programs are:
Certificate II in Outdoor Education
Certificate II in Business
Certificate II in Screen and Media
EdSpace offers School based Apprenticeship opportunities to students interested in Agriculture in partnership with Wodonga TAFE.
Physical education activities include swimming, bike education and maintenance and regular outdoor activities.
Mental Health and social skills
Sally matheson is our speech pathologist who visits each week, and works with the groups of students on social skills and language/literacy. Mental health support is available when needed firstly through the Principal Maggie Fanning, who in addition to being a qualified teacher is a triple certificate nurse, with a Graduate Certificate qualification in Family Child and Adolescent Health.
More complex health needs are met through ready access to a GP, Dr David Rodgers, and then referral to a range of support services if needed, which in the past has included private psychologists, NECAMHS (North East Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service), paediatricians, paediatric psychiatrist and the GP based mental health nurse.
Difficult behaviours and challenges will always occur, and not infrequently students arrive at EdSpace with the experience of punishments in the past, which haven’t necessarily changed things. EdSpace uses the model of ABC (Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence), which looks at the underlying causes of problem behaviours and attempts to deal with it at that level.
Good communication between school and family is the key to sorting out issues. When a problem does occur at school, there is a meeting between the student or students concerned (the whole group if appropriate) and the teacher, and the event is worked through (a mediation process). Often there are misunderstandings of social interactions as a significant part of the problem. Specific tools, such as social stories, and social autopsies are used to work through the causes, and consequences of behaviours, and are very helpful. There is good evidence that a focus on positive behaviours is much more effective in the long run than punishment.
Planning for the Future and Transition
One of our aims is to support transition to further training or employment for our students. To this end the school has established links with a number of organisations including:
LLEN (Local Learning and Employment Network) develops links between employers, trainers, agencies and young people to provide work opportunities for young people.
Yooralla (a state-wide disability service provider). We lease space at the Calfarm for our classroom and facilities.
Benalla College and other mainstream schools. Some students have part enrolment at EdSpace and part enrolment at mainstream schools
The NDIS scheme is rolling out in Benalla in October 2017. information will be passed on to parents following Principal briefings from the Department of Education