Students find their voice with technology

Schools for specific purposes across NSW highlighted their specialised educational opportunities during Education Week. Linda Doherty reports.

A man talking to a child in a wheelchair A man talking to a child in a wheelchair
Image: NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar with Luna at St George School.

Little Luna is a sign language star and leads her classmates through a lesson to the tune of ‘I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends’.

As the vision-impaired Year 3 student finishes her routine, she receives feedback from fellow student Noah who communicates using eye gaze technology linked to a voice-activated tablet. “This makes me feel happy,” Noah says.

Relieving principal Annette Fuller said such lessons supported by teachers and state-of-the-art technology and equipment are “giving a voice” to students with disability, particularly those who are non-verbal.

Outside, a group of secondary students are putting in their weekly footy tips using eye gaze technology linked to the logos of the National Rugby League teams as part of their numeracy program.

In the Immersive classrooms, students are playing instruments by touching the walls and floors as sound and images float around them. Mrs Fuller said the classrooms provide engaging learning opportunities and, for some, a calming space.

St George School, a school for specific purposes on the lands of the Kameygal and Bediagal clans in Kogarah, provides a friendly, inclusive learning experience for 60 students with intellectual, physical and multiple disabilities.

There are more than 100 SSPs in the NSW public education community supporting students with intellectual disability, mental health issues or autism, students with physical disability or sensory impairment, and students with learning difficulties or behaviour disorder.

Students in a blue room. Students in a blue room.
Image: Students in the immersive classroom at St George School.

NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar visited the school on Thursday during Education Week and commended teachers and support staff for their dedication and skills.

“These are students who have the highest needs in our system, and they are individually catered for, with their learning at the forefront. It’s just inspirational,” he said.

“I want these students – and every child regardless of postcode or background – to have outstanding education provision.

“Education is the passport to prosperity; a child’s passport that is richly stamped with wonderful learning experiences and great opportunities.”

Principal Mrs Fuller said staff trialled cutting-edge technology and innovative learning approaches to provide more opportunities for students and to gain their feedback.

The Tell Them From Me student surveys run annually by the Department have been adapted by St George School using a body-mapping process for students with disability.

This involves students selecting images of school activities they like, which are pasted onto a life-sized outline of their bodies on large sheets of paper. Year 1 student Luke selected “friends, music with Daniel, swimming pool, and morning circle” as enjoyable activities.

St George School celebrated Education Week with an open day for families to showcase student learning and wellbeing, with refreshments provided by secondary students from their class café.

“Our families see that we are a safe and supportive school with engaging learning environments focused on respect, inclusion and high expectations and that every child is known, valued and cared for,” Mrs Fuller said.

The school was established by a group of parents in a church hall in Bexley in 1947 and was originally known as the St George Spastic Centre.

It later became the St George School for Crippled Children in Rockdale, before the Department took over. St George School moved to its current location in Kogarah in 2002.

A man talking to a student sitting on the floor. A man talking to a student sitting on the floor.
Image: Luke talks with Department Secretary Murat Dizdar.
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