A few weeks ago Enabler Dan and I were fortunate to be able to go back to high school. My own high school days met with my teenage disapproval, but my mother would say to me that “High School days are the best days of your life”. At the time I took no notice of her wisdom but now, 10 years out of high school, I am beginning to look back fondly on my adolescent education, inside and out of the classroom. So I was excited that Eureka! sent me to Ravenscliffe High School as part of the Helping Hands project - not as a pupil but as a classroom assistant for the morning.
Ravenscliffe Schools is different to the school that I attended in my youth, as this is a high school for children with disabilities from the age of 11. Despite this, the school still acts as any ‘secular’ high school. As you walk in though the entrance the walls are plastered with pictures of students engaging in activities and achievements that have come to define the school and its ethos. Student artwork and photos of musicians suggested an absolute hub of creativity.
The school day started like any other - students drifted down the corridors entering their various classrooms in time for early morning registration. It was Monday; the student’s heads were in the comedown from the weekend. They were back in school and the first task the students had to kick off the week was to read the white board, which instructed them to write about what they did at the weekend. A short paragraph was written, the bell rang, and the pupils poured into the corridors, which were now built up in heavy traffic of wheelchairs and the more able-bodied students heading towards their next lesson. I faced a sea of excited questions as pupils saw my Eureka! T-shirt, some of them proudly telling me about own experiences of Eureka! But my t-shirt was nothing more than a distraction as teachers ushered the children into their next class.
The first lesson I was assisting in was in the school’s sensory room. This is a small white room which has mirrors, a ball pit and soft bedding area, with lighting and bells hanging from the ceiling. It’s a quiet and peaceful area, perfect to let imaginations go wild through exploring senses. The lesson took a while to get started as there was careful preparation needed for the students, who were more challenging than the pupils that I had come across in registration and the ones that I had spoken to in the corridors, and they needed more tending to before the lesson could begin.
And what a lesson it was! The students took an imaginary journey aboard a pirate ship setting sail to discover the wonders of the seven seas. Suddenly the white room was transformed in something from the sets of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. The students and teachers started off by singing sea shanties, banging drums, ringing bells in time as the story begin. The journey took the pupils out into the open sea (and under it too), before asking them to heave up the anchor and discover the wonders that had been pulled up with it as they clung onto their newly found treasures.
I mentioned how student artwork and photos of musicians suggested school was a hub of creativity. Well, the lessons are crafted in such a creative way to cater for students’ specific needs. No wonder the students themselves are so creative.
After the lesson, it was break time for students and teachers too. I wandered back up to the Facility Room for a cup of tea, noticing the students as they left their classroom and out into the fresh air; I caught a glimpse of a rather chaotic game of football in the 5-a-side astro turf which brought back memories of the hustle and bustle of 25-a-side football that I would play when I was at school.
After a quick cuppa and a little time to reflect on the morning’s lesson, I was bundled away into the next lesson which was Dance. I had a brief chat with the enthusiastic teacher who had warned me what to expect from some of the pupils. The students involved in this lesson were more able bodied than those in the previous lesson and were lively and full of character and really excited that somebody from Eureka! would be joining them in their lesson.
I did feel that new face in the classroom served only as a distraction to some of the pupils, so I had to join in with the dance routines despite my inability to dance thanks to my two left feet and terrible co-ordination. The room descended into a riot of bodily moves as myself and students flung arms and legs in the air and twisted and shook hips to music. There was no escaping the sight of our exaggerated dancing as there was a large mirror where all our moves and shapes were on display for the whole room to see.
Some of the boys in class didn’t seem as interested in taking part. But I remember how it felt for me as teenage boy and that the idea of freeing my body though the art of dance seemed like a silly concept. Still, other members of the class were actively engaged in creatively throwing themselves into the music and the lesson and having fun whilst doing so.
And that was my morning at Ravenscliffe high school, a place which has a great, inviting atmosphere and a pounding energy of creative and intuitive minds with students and teachers alike all working together to build a wonderful school. I hope that we continue to develop Eureka!’s relationship with the school as I feel we can each learn from one another whilst working with the aim that people with disabilities should have the same opportunity to get involved in fun playful learning experiences.
Darren Fearnley, Specialist Play Enabler