DPS Athwajan: Special Care for Special Children

The Special Education Needs started in the school with the key concept to make every child move ahead and enjoy the right of moving at their own pace with their own strengths.
DPS Athwajan: Special Care for Special Children
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Amid growing race for quality education in Kashmir, Delhi Public School is fast emerging as an institute of excellence; imparting excellent quality education to its students. The institute is gaining popularity for its human approach, with authorities trying their best to provide student friendly education to those who are physically disabled.

Reaching out to the students with physical problems has made DPS Athwajan earn much fame in the public sector. "We are currently catering to students with varying needs like ADHD, learning disability (which includes Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia), visual impairment, sensory integration issues, Down's syndrome, Hydrocephalus, Autism, Williams' syndrome, Joubert's syndrome and seizure disorder," said Pro-Vice Chairman of DPS Srinagar, Vijay Dhar.

The Special Education Needs started in the school with the key concept to make every child move ahead and enjoy the right of moving at their own pace with their own strengths. "We hold a special place for the children with varying needs. We always wanted to see these children grow and flourish," Dhar said.

Though the idea to cater to children with special needs was of Vijay Dhar, but later his daughter-in-law, Sunanda Dhar gave it a practical shape and took the initiative to new heights. Sunanda is a special educator who invested tremendous effort to give a start to this department. The beginning of Special Education Needs (SEN) in DPS dates back to one decade when DPS authorities started it with four children and one special educator. However, later in the year 2011, SEN was expanded and two teachers from main school volunteered to work for this cause under the guidance of Sunanda.

"The school management chose to train these teachers by sending them to New York for proper training," Vijay Dhar said.

The SEN initiative in DPS is operational at a time when private schools are accused of becoming money minting machines. This is one such school which has gone much beyond education and are grooming those students with special needs, with humane approach.

A decade ago SEN was started in two rooms with two teachers and a few students, however, with the passage of time it was expanded to a fully-fledged department with different work stations for students which includes separate sections for occupational therapy, speech therapy, computer section, vocational group, integrated block, functional unit and English remedial group.

It started with one student with special needs who according to school authorities was thrown out from a private school in city. "It pained me that time to see a child thrown out of a school. The child had ability to improve but was shown the door. I accepted him and decided to school for such children here," says Vijay Dhar. Dhar, however, lamented over the dismal performance of the JK state given their outcome from the past many decades. "JK state should have become hub of education but it's are in a denial mode. JK has seven state universities but they have failed to produce more," Dhar said. He said DPS, from the present academic session started taking students who are visually impaired. This year two students were admitted in SEN whose vision is impaired.

This year SEN started working with visually impaired children. A trained teacher for Braille and Taylor-frame was appointed for this cause. Two students aged 7 a boy and a girl, have been taken on full scholarship, where the school management has been extremely kind to provide them with all the required facilities as well.

"This year we have around 120 students in waiting list. I cannot enrol every student as we don't have availability of special teachers. I feel pained that these students have become victim of non-acceptance prevailing in society," Dhar said.

In the current academic session we are catering to 98 students. We have 28 teachers who are working in SEN as facilitators along with one each speech therapist and occupational therapist. The teachers are making all efforts to make a change in the life of our students by providing them with an environment where they can develop to the fullest," Vijay Dhar said. "After accepting these children, I felt that lot more can be done."

Besides giving efforts for personality development of the children with special needs the idea to start the SEN was to bring sense of belongingness and inclusiveness.

"Our idea to start this school for specially-abled children was to give an idea of inclusiveness among the students enrolled in main school. The students from main school visit SEN and interact with the students there. The students in main schools also get sensitized and we try to give them a sense of responsibility so that they have a soft corner for the children with special needs," said Principal DPS, Kusum Wariku.

She, however, said that they are facing some challenges in motivating the parents to accept that their children need special needs. "It has become a challenge for us to motivate the parents to accept that their kids need special attention," Wariku said.

"We hold their counselling and make them understand about the needs of their children. At times we take help from parents whose kids are already enrolled in special school."

Sharing the success stories of the students who have passed out from SEN, Wariku said the students are now settled in different parts of the country while as some got their livelihood in abroad.

"This is the only thing which gives us satisfaction that we have been able to do a bit for their personal development. These students undergo a complete transition doing their stay in the school," she said.

The school has a proper plan for each child in SEN, the plans change as per the requirement of the children. "Our plans are dependent on the needs of a child. Our plans change as per the requirement of the students," Wariku said.

Depending on the requirement for children with special needs, DPS has divided the students in different groups. One such group is functional group consisting of 36 students. This group caters to children who are not able to cope with the regular curriculum and are provided with the basic curriculum based on their individual needs.

"These students do their academics in SEN and go to the regular school for socialization and co-curricular activities. A batch of students also comes to us for an hour or two everyday so that they can acquire sufficient skills before they enter the main school for the whole day," said coordinator SEN, Munazah Bhat. "We mainly work on their behavior, activities of the daily living, socialization skills, sitting tolerance and attention span."

The other group categorised as integrated group has 24 students who are provided with the basic support in their regular academics. "They require individual attention to cater to their learning styles. These students are mainly provided support in English and Mathematics in order to help them bridge the gaps."

The third group of students called as English Remedial group consists of children who suffer either from a learning disability e.g, Dyslexia or find it difficult to cope with English language due to lack of exposure.

"Major emphasis is being laid on the listening skills along with other core skills like reading, comprehension and speaking keeping in view the students' needs and interests," says Munazah.

Besides, the students are provided with activity based approach like storytelling and drama are used to make learning fun and frolic. "20 children are presently a part of this group."

Another category of students with special needs have been grouped in Open School group. This group consists of students from functional group who have the potential to manage their academics but at a slower pace. SEN has three levels of grades for these children including grade 5, grade 8 and grade 10.

"We at SEN provide these students with full academic support." Besides investing on the children with special needs, SEN has lot more to share about their success stories. "We never dreamed about success I worked for." It is something that appropriately describes our young heroes who invested tremendous efforts and qualified their eight class exams in a single go, in the year 2013. Two more students this year were also able to qualify their class 8 examination with flying colors," Munazah said.

In SEN the teachers have observed that students with visual impairment have unique educational needs which are most effectively met using a team approach of professionals, parents and students.

"In order to meet their unique needs we provide them specialized services books and material in Braille," coordinate SEN said.

Besides the curriculum for grade first, SEN is providing training for orientation and mobility; Assistive Technology, Independent Living Skills, recreation and leisure, self determination (choice making, Problem Solving, Personal advocacy, Assertiveness, Goal setting) Sensory efficiency, Social interaction skills (Body language, Gestures, Facial expression, Personal space, Interpersonal relationship and self control).

Adding another feather in the cap SEN is starting a project to include children with Low Vision. "Students with low vision can use corrected vision for learning. They use low vision aids such as glasses or may need access to large print learning materials and software," SEN coordinator said. This year they have taken three children with low vision and also intend to provide them with the best possible support.

The investment over the past years on the children with special needs has proved fruitful for the SEN team as their efforts have emerged as success stories.

Special teachers at SEN took an initiative and introduced computers and photography as a vital part of the program. "Touch screen technology was introduced keeping in mind the individual needs of our students. Our students are also using colored key boards and I-Pads to develop their fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination. They are currently doing web development, video editing and documentary designing," Munazah said.

The students have worked wonders not only with the computers but with the camera as well. "One of our students marked his presence by creating his own photography blog. This child who struggled with words can now confidently express his thoughts, opinions and ideas through the lenses of his camera.

"The little dissatisfaction which every artist feels at the completion of his work from the germ of a new work, likewise we intend to continue with our endeavor hoping to see light despite all darkness," shared a team of special teachers at SEN.

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