Classroom Created For Students With Autism

Tuesday 18th, September 2012 / 08:32 Published by

A Rotary club, R.E.A.C.H. and the Ministry of Education teamed up to reach out to the littlest students in The Bahamas, opening the region’s first pre-school classroom specially equipped to meet the needs of children with autism. With fanfare that included a concert by preschoolers barely tall enough to reach a desk or old enough to spell their names, with a leading Rotary member from Virginia, a club from California, Sunrise Rotary in Nassau, a lecturer from Florida Atlantic University (FAU), with the prominent Realtor who has devoted years of his life to educating the public about autism and top officials from the Ministry of Education, the launch of the $20,000 vibrantly coloured classroom at Willard Patton Preschool Friday on Meeting and Augusta Streets turned a page in education history.

“It is an honour and a privilege to be part of this momentous occasion,” declared Sunrise Rotary President Mario Smith, touting the three-way partnership between government, Rotary and REACH that made it possible. “This is the first of its kind in the Caribbean.”

The breakthrough, funded by Rotary, organised under the guidance of autism specialist Michael McGinty and staffed by the Ministry of Education which called it “a tangible sign of our level of commitment,” the model classroom project was inspired by the organisation founded to build support and resources for autistic children and their families and to educate the public about the condition that impacts thousands in The Bahamas.

“We are here today to celebrate a classroom,” said Director of Education Lionel Sands, who credited Realtor Mario Carey, president of R.E.A.C.H. for driving the effort. “Mr. Carey did exactly what his organisation is known for — he reached out and with the cooperation of the Ministry of Education and Rotary, this classroom dream became a reality. This demonstrates what a formal and informal partnership can achieve.”

Carey said later it would not have happened without the leadership and knowledge of McGinty, a man whose passion for helping those with autism has driven him to use vacations repeatedly to come to The Bahamas to support autism efforts, working with teachers, students and organisations.

On this day, he was recognised by parents, students, teachers and Rotarians who gathered under a tent in the midday sun anticipating the tour of the results of two years of labour and fund-raising, converting what was intended to be a resource centre into a model learning environment. From the bright red squares to the clear rectangular bins, the brilliant rainbow of colours to the organised structured spaces, the single classroom was built to suit the special needs of children whose condition may include struggling with communicating or suffering from sensory overload.

“The main goal of designing the classroom for autistic children at the Willard Patton Preschool was to ensure that the classroom encourages engagement in instruction throughout the day,” said McGinty. “Creating a stable environment that facilitates participation, has clearly defined areas that supports skills, and is an area that increases educational engagement and independence in autistic students were the criteria that guided the classroom’s design.”

Realtor Carey, who helped drive the project, knows what colours, shapes, form and space can mean to a child with autism.

“I am the parent of an autistic child,” said Carey, who has served as president of R.E.A.C.H. since 2010 and wanted to celebrate the classroom as a new beginning of an age of understanding. “I would like to quote Neil Armstrong, the courageous astronaut who died just a few weeks ago, ‘This is one small step for man, one giant leap forward for mankind.'” Carey noted that the figures for those with autism continually climb. Five years ago, one in 150 children was diagnosed with some form of the spectrum. Today, it is one in 100 and for every 20 children who enter school, two will have special needs.

“This model classroom is just the beginning, but it is a start of which we can all be very proud because it will make a difference in so many lives. Thank you, Rotary, thank you everyone.”

Diane Phillips & Associates

Caption: RIBBON-CUTTING ON A CARIBBEAN 1ST — The first classroom in the Caribbean specifically equipped for preschool children with autism opened this month at Willard Patton Primary, Meeting and Augusta Streets in Nassau, thanks to the dedication of an autism specialist and a partnership between Sunrise Rotary, R.E.A.C.H and the Ministry of Education. Pictured l-r at the ribbon-cutting, Janet Brown, Rotary International, Director of Education Lionel Sands, school Principal Joanna Miller-Neely and Mario Carey, president of R.E.A.C.H.

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