Student voice inspires innovative programs at Bolwarra Public School

Two children in school uniforms feed a carrot to a pony
Image: Bolwarra students

Staff at Bolwarra Public School near Maitland have taken a creative approach to helping students build emotional intelligence and social skills.

Bolwarra's 2018 Roar program was designed to suit the specific needs and interests of five students from Years 2-6 with diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health needs and disability.

Run under the supervision of a qualified vet, students practiced emotional intelligence and self-care by taking care of furry friends and learning how to recognise what they were feeling by observing their body language.

Principal Steven Richard said Roar was developed because a group of students the school was seeking to engage were animal lovers. He emphasised the program was just one part of an ongoing whole-school focus on improving outcomes for students with disability.

"Each week we brought a different animal into the school, and we finished with a field trip to a local veterinarian service," Mr Richard said. "One child in the group really struggled socially out in the playground, and would basically come and talk to staff every lunchtime."

"For the last term of last year we didn't see them because they were out socialising with their own peers, and had a beautiful, successful transition to high school."

Broader initiatives have also helped improve relationships between children, their families and school staff by taking on board feedback and considering the unique needs of the school's local community

Early intervention initiatives now ensure classroom teachers contact parents at the first sign of concern, and work with families and allied health professionals to seek solutions. Staff review and update plans regularly to continually improve practice and adapt to need.

Assistant Principal Naomi Mrljak said the new approach has allowed the school to creatively support each child according to their individual needs, and has been popular with parents.

"As a parent you are your child's biggest advocate. You need information and communication early to understand what is happening," she said. "We work as a team and draw on strategies and resources from professionals that have the child's best interest at heart. The whole team is there to ensure that each child has their needs met."

There's no one-size-fits all model for improving education for students with disability - and the best way to improve outcomes is often to ask students what they need.

We love to celebrate outside of the box thinking as well as methods that are already backed up by research. If you have an innovative idea about how to improve outcomes for students with disability, submit it to our innovation program and share it with NSW!

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