Monday, 30 September 2019


Blog by Hilary Sherlock with message and formatting by Leslie Wan

Hilary Sherlock writes...............
“Can we do it again, I hope when school starts we can do it, I know I come late
so I only catch one time, but I really like it.”
Morning Meditation 

Coming from our most skeptical and critical member of staff, this comment took all of us by surprise, especially as the” it” she was referring to was a group meditation exercise. During the second week of our summer program, Sister Tram had led us, children and adults together, through basic guided meditation. Now at the end of our summer school we were reflecting on our experiences, on the weeks activities, on what new knowledge we had gained, and on what dormant skills had been refreshed. A small group of us had been planning this two week camp for what seemed a very long time. Through the intervention of Farnoosh Droodgar of LEAD Outreach Initiatives ,(Leadership, Empowerment, Action, and Development) a Canadian based N.G.O that spends so much time and effort helping good things happen in needy places, and Sr. Gene Poore from the Dominican Sisters of  Peace, we hosted a two week summer program for our younger students. As part of our outreach partnership with The Hope Valley Experimental School in Kingston, a few of their students were invited to participate. Occupational and physio therapists, Sr. Mary and Sr. Tram agreed to come.
Learning new physical therapy skills from the sisters! 
Funding was secured through the Shalom Fund operated by the Sisters. Our goals were simple, to strengthen specific weak areas in our ongoing program (e.g. use of physical therapy motor switches and routine oral motor exercises), suggestions for ongoing activity plans based on individual assessments of each child, and an introduction to guided meditation. These two weeks were carefully planned with all daily activities chosen and prepared.  The term "switches" refers to Adaptive switches that allow the physically challenged and special needs user to activate assistive technology devises in their environment. This can be, for example, a large button that is electrically connected to a toy or another piece of equipment that a child can push to celebrate or reflect his correct answer. An adaptive communication tool for non-verbal, but includes mobility work.

This was to be a learning time not only for the children, but also for us adults. It also proved a good bonding experience to be learning together. The inclusion of meditation as part of the program is not as unusual as it may first appear. I had observed its effective use by Zahra (our creative arts therapist) in her work with our children, and by how her students gained control of their breathing and restless bodies. I had also been reading of its effects in helping children control their behavior. So perhaps this was the time for all of us to try it, adults and children together – and YES, we are definitely now building it in to our regular schedule. So, for two weeks in July we did have fun, we did refresh old dormant skills, we did enjoy the more relaxed pace AND getting to know our visitors. Our visiting students and their parents brought new energy and it was lovely to see the affinity our volunteer Olivia (a Wolmers High School student) developed with the children, especially her favorite little man.

What do we take with us into the new school year, a re-commitment to change and growth, a new look at how we are using our space functionally, and perhaps, most significant, the importance of planning and preparation in all we do. We further explored how we can continue to build our staff as a team. As we cleaned and prepared for the new school year we were making sure to include daily group meditation periods. Now, some weeks into our new school year we begin each day with a ten minute all school meditation. We sit in a circle and go through simple breathing exercises and calmly centre ourselves for the day ahead. Very quickly it has become an important part of our school routine, as the peaceful silence is powerful.

Leslie Wan writes....... 
You would probably find the new found practice of meditation in children with special needs to be  surprising, considering the issues some of our children face. But, in point of fact sometimes they crave a moment of quiet peace in a day that can be loud and hectic and always full of people and other children. In an unusual way, it becomes their own personal time which happens so rarely in any given day. The goal is not to make sure they stay closed eyed and still, because that may be a task too tough for them, but to make them aware that personal space and single contemplation as best they can, is something to be celebrated and a goal worth doing. Truth is, don't we all need some time of quiet moments, which we seldom take the time to do? It was also well received by the staff because they learned it from our visitors who practice it often, and whom had won them over with their quiet energy and lovely attention. We have always known the power of engagement, but rarely had the direction to focus on disengagement.. Starting the meditation early in the morning, means the children and staff come out of the morning hustle and bustle and find their focus by just being as still as they can, and understanding that being individuals even in a crowd, is quite rewarding. I can not stress enough how the power of disengagement can be such an important element for all of us and something I am trying to practice more of in my life just as we are encouraging the children. Being peaceful and being still I realize now, are far different goals. 

Special thanks to 

1. LEAD Outreach Initiatives (Leadership Empowerment Action Development) and Farnoosh Droodgar 
2. Dominican Sisters of Peace
3. Shalom Fund
4. Sister Mary and Sister Tram (of Dominican Sisters of Peace)  

Monday, 3 June 2019


Blog by Hilary Sherlock and Leslie Wan
(formatted by Leslie Wan)

Hilary Sherlock says ...............

Schools are ever changing landscapes of ins and outs, beginnings and exits. Children come and children go, and many times it is not an organized or regular semester entrance or leaving. Our school, because of the children we serve, is often working through those changes at all kinds of time in a semester. To say that our students are a very mixed group seems like stating the obvious. I often struggle to describe how we group the children within the many levels of individual differences. Though we strive to put into practice our favorite saying “it's ok to be different”, we do have to recognize each child’s unique place within our equally unique whole. This is always accentuated when we add a new child or adult teacher. The dynamic of the whole group changes and often reactions, challenge our assumptions about our “gentle, accepting school culture”. I work with the underlying premise that if the culture of the school is one of acceptance and affirmation, then bullying, name calling, or any other manifestation of hurtful speech, will not occur. Over the years I now believe that given the often harsh language used in the world and community that surrounds us, it does influence our children and staff, and we must constantly guard against this by being aware.

We recently added two new students and their impact was immediate and evident in very different ways. One little fella walks very well and has no clearly defined boundaries or sense of danger. So making sure that the grill doors are locked at all times becomes a priority, as does the need to keep an eye on his movements while still allowing him the freedom to explore his new surroundings . A new walker in a group of children almost all of whom use wheelchairs, brings its own demands. Another of our newest students, for health reasons, must only be fed the food he brings, and in small amounts, so all of us must resist from giving this cute little fella extra treats. His dietary restrictions and changes are something that he is finding expansive and exploratory, but not particularly within his bodily control. Ah but he does not always understand that.    

A more subtle change happens when we add a mobile child with well developed independent skills which we recently did. He can move around, go to the bathroom and feed himself, so he requires less intervention on a physical care level. However, he has his own set of needs including delayed language skills, and no prior experience of social skills in a school setting . How best do we help him adjust to being in a new group, while helping his peers accept him and his sometimes strange language. Recently, I was sitting with a group of the older students at lunch time. This group always sits together – a group formed partly because they all can feed themselves. Their wheelchairs fit that particular table’s height. They watched the newcomer closely and with his limited speech choices kept repeating “duck, duck, quack, quack” to initiate a conversation. I think I know where duck, duck, quack, quack came from because we had been looking at a book before lunch. I had cheered him on when he identified the ducks and the noise they make, but the others found it understandably strange not having been a part of that reading session. But, I was disappointed when they ridiculed him with the favorite name for one who behaves differently: “he crazy!, he cuckoo!”. A “teaching moment” followed to the other students who ridiculed him. One can only hope that by continually reinforcing that we do not hurt each other by things we say or do, and relating it back to how they feel when assumptions are made about them, we can guard against some of the harsher realities of our culture. Someone recently asked me if the kindness and compassion shown by our students to each other was an innate consequence of their own recognition of their challenges and I think that put that all into perspective - not innate - learned and reinforced. Reinforcing kindness and compassion is an ongoing need! 

On a sweeter note though, I should mention that we also have children that are kind of "watchers" and will alert us when they think that a child has strayed too far out of what they perceive are that other students personal boundaries, or when a child may have a wheel chair issue and he is leaning too far, or at a particularly uncomfortable angle. Some who are mobile, will of their own volition, push another students wheelchair to make sure the student gets in the group or will get a chair when they see someone has no place to sit. In the end our school is just a microcosm of the world at large. Sometimes kind, sometimes not so much.  

Leslie's thoughts.........Little of this and a little of that 

1. A new tradition has been started at STEP with a day devoted to water fun! I can not tell you how

much the children have enjoyed playing in small wading pools together, splashing around and splashing each other!! The sound of laughter is everywhere and the children and teachers are completely removed from the usual school routine to a day of total joy. Hands up for our teachers whom enjoy the day, though it does create an extra amount of work with all the clothing changes and diaper changes required. A system in and a system out of the bathroom and yet it is orderly and accomplished. No one is immune to the sound of laughter and joy and the smiles that this day brings. Hanging out in a pool on a warm day beats a workbook - ANY DAY. 

2. Some changes have been happening to the schools exterior recently. This has been something we have needed for a very long time but as in all things, we can not just "do it", but somehow eventually,  the heavens and the people and companies align to help us get it done. On one side of the building, we have been quite concerned about erosion and lack of drainage. We have had nothing to stop the gradual erosion of the embankment that holds up our privacy zinc and we so hoped that before hurricane season we could remedy this without it becoming an emergency. For now, we have abated an emergency threat. 
So Phase 1 with a BIG shout out to 
A. Maryanne Twyman - landscape architect, who designed the plan for us to make it a reality. Thank you, for your expertise and wonder. She is the best folks.  
B. Digicel Foundation - for providing the funds to do this very necessary endeavor. We are always grateful that Digicel believes in us and the magic of our children. 
C. Elie and David Rickham Family for donating all the plants whose roots will help shore up the dirt and beautify the spot. Auntie Elie is a constant friend of STEP and of the children. Thank you for sharing the beauty, and being our secret angels Rickham family - yes it is a family affair for them.   
D. Mark Swaby- Big thanks to a parent of ours who put his team in action to build it for us. Mark always seems to jump in and supply expertise and people when needed. Thank you Mark! 

We will eventually do a PHASE 2 that will see us making a trellis for climbing plants, wooden fencing will replace our zinc " privacy wall" and further wooden fencing that will block off the view of our laundry area that, while necessary, is just abit untidy looking. This too will come to pass one day when we are able, but, for now that remains a future goal. There are just not enough ways to express our gratitude for what we receive. Ever grateful, ever aware.

3. Thank you to the Brownies from Hopefield Prep. They spent a morning with us entertaining the children, playing games, reading books, feeding lunches and just being their sweet selves in the middle of a school day. Our children loved the attention. I think the Brownies learned a lot about the challenges of children like ours, and seemed to soak it all in, with such compassion and fun spirit. Lovely, lovely girls with great hearts. We spent some time explaining some of the challenges of the individual students so they could understand some of the ways the children face their differences, and also the ways they compensate and overcome. I was worried in some way that they would feel overwhelmed amongst our children, so I spoke with a group as they prepared to leave. They said they were not overwhelmed at all and they loved every minute of it and especially the children and how the children made them laugh too. Reminded me to never underestimate the compassion and ability of other children to see the spark we see amongst our school crew.

Leslie's Final words for today..................

 Cherishing the spirit of others, makes our own spirit lighter as it rises to the embrace. Keep cherishing and keep embracing others.  

Saturday, 9 February 2019



HILARY SHERLOCK SAYS................

In December, I asked two of our older students as we prepared for Christmas, "What can we do to show love at Christmas?” Their responses, “You can help clean the house" and "When your Auntie is going out to shop you can go with her to carry the load”  Very profound! So, to all those who have shown their love to us over the past year and who have helped to carry the load – many, many thanks to all of you.

Christmas at STEP is always a special time, a time to celebrate and reflect, to catch up with old friends as we sell Christmas cards, and to enjoy all the special visits and treats.  One special visit was from one of our past student who is now 33 years old. How lovely it was to spend a little time with her.  Her visit made me realise that with our staff changes, only a few of us remember the early days of STEP when we resided in the Church Hall.  How far we have moved from then, both physically and functionally.

While in our past blogs we have spoken about our community, our space and all those who support us, we have not introduced members of our team who make it all possible.  Two of the longest serving members are – Auntie Marcia and Auntie Junetta.  Both members of our staff have been with STEP from the early days and are part of the fabric of our school.  Together we have grown and changed and sometimes, we talk about memories of past children and happenings as members of a family often do. 
Auntie Junetta
Auntie Junetta began her career with STEP as a teaching assistant. Later, she went on to do a degree at U-Tech and came back to be the teacher in charge of the junior students.  She intuits the needs of the children, notices and takes delight in the smallest accomplishment of our children. She is also an instinctive nurse who can take an accurate temperature without a thermometer. 
Auntie Marcia
Auntie Marcia of “always late” fame, has a special gift for finding the hidden treasure in children who require our maximum assistance.  These two valuable members of our team, help to ensure the continuity of our approach, and remind us that our strength, is only made possible by the contributions of each member. 

As in any family, there are adjustments to be made when new members are added.  New energy and insights help us to bring new growth and re-motivate all of us.  However,  we also have to realize that our new staff has not benefited from all the in service training we have done in the past, and sometimes we need to go back to the basics. As such, while we continue with our training on new procedures, and embrace new concepts in teaching and care, we also are going back to the basics to make sure that everyone has the same concepts and understanding. It serves as a reminder to us all that we need to have a refresher moment. Training is an ongoing process at STEP and we have recommitted ourselves to more training, but it also serves as a means for us all to re-acquaint ourselves with best practices, and bonds staff over why we do what we do, and how to do it in the best possible ways.   

Ambassador Ariel Fernandez

A fond farewell is in order for Ambassador Ariel Fernandez from Argentina who became a friend of our school during last year's World Cup football celebrations. He visited us many times, introduced us to empanadas, and was always very supportive. He has now returned to Argentina and while we wish him well in his new posting, we will miss him. As we say here - Walk good Ambassador Fernandez, as the children wave goodbye to you.  


Thank you to Mr Matuschka 
As we enter the New Year with all our plans and hopes, we want to acknowledge the passing of Alexander Matuschka, the CEO of the Digicel International Group.  Mr Matuschka visited our school on his very first visit to Jamaica, and became personally involved in our work.  As a result of that visit he personally decided to sponsor a child himself, and did not solely limit his involvement to a financial one.  Mr. Matuschka kept in touch with us, and periodically inquired about “his little one’s" progress.  We will surely miss him and we join the Digicel community in offering our condolences to his friends, family and the 
Digicel group. 
Mr. Matuschka was a kind man with a golden heart who in one visit to our school, grasped how important our work was, and decided to personally commit to seeing that another child had the opportunity. That pretty much says it all about Mr. Matuschka.


Leslie Wan says..............

We are ever grateful for being given the honor and joy of working with our children and the staff, who lovingly care for our children and want the best for them. So many times we are reminded by visitors to STEP how much they share our dedication to special needs children and specifically OUR work and school efforts. For that, we are blessed. It is not a surprise that once someone has stepped  into our school, they return each year (or more), because it does their heart good. I recently sat with a group of folks (Boston College alumni) who have visited us from abroad every year for the last 5 years or so. One of them said that this school is contagious with kindness, and the joy they get every time they visit makes their whole trip! One admitted that their family hears all about the children of STEP  (perhaps too many times for the family's patience). They said what comes across is smiles, smiles of children and smiles of caregivers. These smiles will brighten their year till the next visit. In some ways, that is what this blog is about, keeping all the people in our circle (here and abroad) in the loop, as we also let others know, about the wonder of our children, and the blessings of the general special needs community. To our people - high 5 to all of you from all of us, and from one of our students who loves to blow kisses, one of those too. Our children's world gets bigger and brighter thanks to all those who believe in them and our school.  

We always are grateful for those who believe and share with us. Thank you to:

1. CAC Foundation and Pacers Running club for their continued support to our curriculum enhancement and means to engage our children in ways they love!!

2. AAA Financial: Thank you as always for the Christmas treat provided to our children each year of lunch, and their treat bags. Each child went to their respective places with a special reminder of your care for them. In addition we received 2 terrific and powerful fans to move that air in our hot Jamaica school days. God bless them, they stayed and chatted with the children and even helped to feed a couple children their lunch. That is HEART!

3. Thank you to Cannonball Cafe and Loshusan Supermarket for allowing space to sell our Christmas cards. They always come thru to help us in our selling push. 

4. National Continental Bakery - for including us with a booth in their Jamaica Made Christmas to sell our cards. We always appreciate being included in this inspired Jamaican event. 

5. Thank you to all those who bought our Christmas cards and helped us to sell our Christmas cards. Our major fundraiser each year brings out the best in all our people and we soooo appreciate you all.       

Friday, 16 November 2018


Heroes Day 2018 -  Learning by playing is fun

Post by Leslie Wan

We are back in the swing of things at school. As usual, we have some new students and some we waved good bye to at the end of last semester. We are happy to have some students back that were sidelined by injury or illness last semester. As usual being back to school is a celebration of spirit in all of us, children, teachers, volunteers and our "fairy godmothers". 

Heroes Day

On the activity front we had a really delightful Heroes Day celebration. Thank you to our special guest judges and visitors on the day Christine Rodriguez and Lillieth Nelson. The children dressed up in characters or else in national dress. I wish a picture did justice to how much they enjoy these moments, but well just a couple. 
"Alexander Bustamante" 

National Dress of Jamaica 



A new collaboration to benefit the wider disability community 
A couple of months ago Hilary and I, accompanied by our trusty driver and fellow explorer David Wan (my husband), made a visit to the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (Hollywell) to discuss with them the possibilities for collaboration on making the park a more disability and wheelchair friendly environs. They have expressed a desire to liaise with us to understand how to make (as best as they can) some foot pathways more accessible for wheelchairs and also some sensory expanding enhancements for all forms of challenges in children. It is their hope that the beauty of the park could become a place where more children could enjoy the wonder of bathing their souls in the sights and sounds of Jamaica's natural beauty. They have vowed to work through some "fixes" and hopefully source some added funding, to allow ALL children to hear the birds, linger in the mist, feel the breeze, smell the plants, and enjoy the peace that sometimes is so missing in their lives. They are working hard up there on so many wonderful changes, including a field house / potential cafe, new nature center (wheelchair access to it in the works) and some leveled pathways for wheelchair use as well. We appreciate their interest in all children having opportunities and we will be taking a couple of children in the future for a trial run. If you have not been up there lately, it is time for you to visit again. As we have said before in this blog, while our mission is about our children, it includes the goal of the wider disabilities community. 

Our Garden continues to increase in wonder and functionality for our nature inclusive purposes

1. Thank you to the Sherlock family (here and abroad) for a bench in our garden that blends in the serenity of the garden's purpose, and welcomes all to sit a spell under our shade tree and soak in the wonder. The bench is in memory of Grace and Sir Philip Sherlock. We are so grateful to them for giving us a bench to set a spell and linger peacefully. I sat in it the other day and listened to the birds, watched the butterflies dive and lift, and take in the plants we cherish. Delightful memorial.    

2. Thank you to The Key Club of Campion College for spending a morning playing games with the children. The children loved having new playmates and the Campion Key Club has decided to return, to work on a project to re-paint our wall in the garden.  

3.Thank you to the daughters of Dr. Molly Thorburn for providing us with a birdbath in memory of their beloved mother whom, during her life, was instrumental in improving the lives of the disabled, both with rehabilitation work and services for children with special needs.

Citation for Marigold ‘Molly’ Thorburn, OD Distinguished researcher in cytogenetics, pediatric pathology, childhood disabilities. Pioneered home based early intervention programs in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Regional and international consultant, lecturer and author in developing services for persons with developmental disabilities. Initiated and developed community based rehabilitation programmes in Jamaica and regionally. 
(CCRP living legends award) 

 Sometimes it is as simple as bubbles!
Leslie's Final thoughts  
Here is something I have to say about our STEP Centre. Because our students have such vast differences in capabilities, physical abilities, mental abilities and sensory awareness, it requires us to spend a lot of time working specifically ON THEM, and FOR THEM. So much of the work with an individual child must be placed on that child and THEIR goals, which means learning is extensively individualized. Sure we have approaches and therapies that are generalized by history, training and best practices, but that must be brought down to their individual needs. Many times it requires us to set aside our former goal for them because we have re-evaluated, or because despite our hopes, their bodies, capabilities and endurance are changing or even diminishing. But as hard as it may be, we are geared to NEVER GIVE UP. So much of our work is not what level they rise to, but are they well cared for, stimulated, loved, ACCEPTED and happy. We hope, we pray, we believe and we accept, because after all acceptance is what they need, and often what they are lacking in their wider world.Once you accept them, you become a believer, and once you believe your heart will NEVER be the same. 

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for believing in our children. Believing is in the title of our blog because it is in our hearts.  

Our major fundraiser has begun!!!! -- Our yearly Christmas card sales. 
Please Support our school by purchasing our cards for all your corporate and family/friend needs. The cost is $130 Jamaican per card and we have 4 new designs this year including new from our children's art. It is a tangible way for your support to be actualized into the needs of our children and the needs of the expenses to run our school. Just contact our school and we will have your order ready ASAP. For a small fee we can deliver. (Click on the photo to see larger) Thank you!!



Monday, 4 June 2018


Toyota Jamaica, Staff, Parents, Friends, Digicel Foundation Friends, etc. gather to spruce us our school.   

Blog written by Leslie Wan

The idea of teams and team work has been rolling around in my brain for a few days. A recent conversation with a friend sparked those thoughts. Jamaican Labor Day became the day that clarified my thoughts about teams and teamwork. I focus in here on Team STEP Centre for the purpose of the blog, even though there are many teams in my life, including team "family". Labor Day our school was FILLED with wonderful folks who spent hours in the hot sun (inside and outside the building)  and hours with disinfectant cleaners, painting equipment, dust rags, yard equipment (clippers, rakes, pitchfork, weed whacker, shovel and on and on).  We had quite the turn out to spruce up our school and with BIG BIG THANKS to Toyota Jamaica. Toyota Jamaica and their amazing staff, supplied us with paint and painters to brighten up our school. They also gave us some much needed metal corner bumpers for our walls. That may seem like an odd need, corner bumpers, but when you consider all the wheelchairs that bump into walls at the school, you will understand how that saves our corners! It wasn't just "things supplied " from Toyota Jamaica, but a really amazing, lively, and hard working group of Toyota volunteers that did  A LOT of hard work, and did it with such energy and spirit. The commonality of that group- young, older, men, women, children and everyone there, was that they wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and improve the lives of our children along the way.  The STEP Centre can never say enough thanks to Toyota Jamaica and our beloved Auntie Rowena Conner (and Tom Conner) for their support and faithful belief in the power of STEP Centre. Sure Toyota  is a corporate sponsor, but Toyota truly BELIEVES in the work we do, and that means so much to us.

However, let me not leave out the rest of the team.The team included our staff, some parents of our students, some long time friends of STEP Centre, an island visitor whom I think is now a dedicated STEP Auntie (Miss Caroline), an American Embassy friend and a few Digicel Foundation volunteers. For sure big up to our staff and parents, who really worked very hard and with such laughs and fun. It warmed my heart to see  our staff doing such a lot of work, and doing it so enthusiastically because they want the school to be its best self and, because they care about the people and the place they work. It was very clear to me that our school staff do work as a TEAM, and they sincerely care about the children that are with us, and the school they come to every day. Here is the thing about teams. Teams are the best versions of themselves when they get wonderful guidance and strong leadership from the leader. Hilary (our principal) certainly as our team "leader" sets the pace and guides us all with her spirit and her commitment to the special needs community and our children with her energy. Sure Hilary is a strong presence in the school as leaders always are, but the team rallies because they care about the cause and they care about what they are doing, and doing for each other.  A team is nothing if they don't pull together and that was never more evident than when one of our staff recently had / has her own major health issue. They raised money to help her, cheered her on, told her to get on with it when she was being abit mellow, and picked up the slack when she was out ill and as she rehabilitates. That is the beauty of a team pulling together for a cause, and for the people in the team. We at STEP became stronger as a team by supporting her and it made us understand our children's issues even more.  


We all are on many teams in our lives. First you have to recognize who  your teams are, work, family, church, personal passions etc, and why you are on those teams. Sure, we all have to earn a living and hopefully most have a place in a family, but you need to really be there on the team because you CARE! You care about your integrity, and you care about having a part to play. We may not always love what we do, but we certainly need to LOVE HOW WE DO IT! That is the contribution you make to yourself personally, and going forward into your team. Working as a team is far easier than working against a team, and you are enriched by the team if you BELIEVE in it. It is never enough to just show up. It is about showing up because you want the best for yourself and for the community and people who surround you.  
Even nature understands teams! 

We believe.......... Our people in and outside of STEP Centre are our team, and we respect them and are grateful to them. Our children  are taught that gratitude and teamwork matter.

Thursday, 10 May 2018


By Leslie Wan and Hilary Sherlock
formatted also by Leslie Wan
Hilary Sherlock - her perspective

Digicel visit

We recently received a call from Digicel Jamaica asking us if they could pay us a visit the next day. The new Digicel Group Ltd. CEO, Alexander Matuschka was in town and he wanted to see our school. We were told he had read the blog and thought this was the place he wanted to see, in action. A little history reminder…………We had owned the land that the school sits on now for several years prior to a building being on it. It had been our dream from the beginning to have a real school building, instead of utilizing a church hall. So, with serendipity, we bought the land so that one day we would be able to fulfill the dream. Along comes Digicel many years later, with their commitment to special needs work, and our land plus their generous charitable donation allowed us our school building. 

Digicel's visit set me on a reflective path.  We are finishing our fifth school year in our not-so-new (but still a true blessing) school.  For the first time ever we are planning a Labor Day project where we will do some much needed maintenance work on our building and gardens. We remember again how wonderful it is for us to be stewards of our own facility, and our ongoing  gratitude to The Digicel Foundation for the concrete dream. Initially our relationship with Digicel was one of being a grateful receiver. This meant gratitude for the building, and some equipment, but most of all gratitude for their trust and faith that STEP Centre would strive to fulfill the right of all children to a quality education. Over the ensuing years the relationship has become so much more than a monetary connection. It has become an established base of mutual respect and a recognition that Digicel is pleased with our work, supportive of our dedicated goals, and genuinely believe in the power and possibilities our children have. More importantly they believe that our children deserve the same rights and respect that all children should have. 

Gift to Mr. Matuschka and Digicel 
from the children
 We can now work, and are working on, wider issues affecting the community of persons with special needs. These are: advocacy and strengthening the voices and knowledge of parents of children with special needs and caretakers, among other things. Digicel has gone from a simple monetary contribution, to working in partnership with us to enable persons with disabilities and their families, to achieve what is their RIGHT.  We can now look at less traditional ways of enriching our curriculum and working more on our community outreach. Finally, we are doing the second part of our mission which is using our school, our staff, and our energy, to bring the community in and to give back broadly for what we have been given. We are now giving forward in education and training to other special needs stakeholders. The true mark of our gratitude is that we strive to educate out into the community and are actively doing programs and curriculum work that will benefit others outside our walls and space ( teacher training, parent workshops, internship options for other special needs folks to work with us, garden curriculum and resource material, etc.)    
Our garden invites in teachers and community participants to learn about 
biodiversity curriculum 

The Ministry of Education
 Over the years our relationship with the Ministry of Education has also evolved.  Though the financial contribution is extremely critical to the survival and growth of our school, the partnership is much more than a financial one. Working collaboratively on joint projects such as a general curriculum for students with moderate to severe special needs over many months, gave us opportunities for many interactions and the building of trust. During this time we grew to appreciate our Ministry colleagues as persons who are passionately committed to our children.  A recent incident brought this sharply into focus for us. A potentially difficult situation occurred, but, with the support of the team from the Special Education Unit – home, school and the government, we were able to work together on a principled solution.  As many of our children have conditions not usually found in the typical school population, our protocols and standards are continually being challenged and refined. It is good to be able to do this with wise professional counsel. The Staff and our contacts at the Ministry of Education are an ally, a knowledge source, and a trouble shooter when the need arises. For that, we are truly grateful. 


Leslie's Final Thoughts

On a regular basis we find that while we sometimes need to adjust our goals at the school. More often than not, we find that others align in our goals and even enhance our goals for our kids. Sometimes it is a matter of walking in our door to see the magic, the energy and the determination of our children, and sometimes it is about us asking for what we need help with. In both of these instances above, the organizations have done both. It started out as a "project" or a responsibility for each of the two entities above. Now for us, they have become our true supporters and believers. Belief is contagious and energizing, and we have plenty of that to give back to others. But, belief has to be backed up not only with action, but with HEART. I recently saw our teachers respond with true compassion and appropriate remedies for a cut on one of our children's lip. As I sat back and reflected on the incident, I realized that our teachers not only have the heart, but have also been given the training, the tools and physical space to address the "emergency". Sometimes it takes the smallest "crisis" to see that we do the hard and compassionate work daily, but we were given people, organizations and tools to allow that to happen also.

Leslie's take away moment………This month we had one of our prior students return on an "intern work assignment" with us. I had known him at the school all those years ago (I have been with STEP a looong time) and seeing him as a work intern was like a firework that lit up my heart. It said to me, never give up and never stop believing. What we give, returns to us in miraculous and affirming ways. It says though the children go, they really do take with them possibilities and determination we are never sure of when they leave. Most importantly they take a respect for themselves and a fondness for the time they have spent with us. That student became the teacher for me that moment.               

Monday, 29 January 2018



It has been awhile since we have done a school update, but as always toward the end of the year, things get busy in our real school world. Holiday happenings come upon us, and the real work needs to happen with our students. So here I find myself behind the computer celebrating a new year in our terrific school. We began with a wonderful start to the semester and being very joyful about the children and the direction at STEP. Lots of good news here in this blog, a little sadness and lots of thanks going out to special folks and organizations who have made us better! (Little longer than normal to share all our goodness from some months past. ) 

We have some wonderful news to share with you. We have begun (born of necessity and the belief that all children deserve to be educated despite their range of issues) to expand some of our work into the vision impaired realm. As we all know children often fall into multiple realms of challenges which makes their education sometimes very specific and yet with broad ranging needs. So, in somewhat recent times, we have added a teaching component that encompasses the needs of children with no or low vision, but whom have other pervasive needs as well. In our experience in Jamaica, schools that deal with single disabilities, are less inclined to take students who have multiple challenges. Every school has the right to set their boundaries, but that means there are students who have no place to go, and yet have potential and the will that in this case exceeded their blindness. I am personally proud of our school and our willingness to adapt so that children should not be left out, and the commitment of our teachers and our staff that give it their best effort for the betterment of the child! To be specific, we had really very limited resources, or even knowledge, of how to teach the blind. BUT, we had the faith in ourselves and our abilities, to be able to rise above it. So, when a parent asked the Ministry of Education to consider the possibility of placing her child with us to get him physically ready and assist in his development towards attending a specialized school for the blind, what could we say? That initial student has now become multiplied and we believe that they all have the right and the NEED to be educated and in a socialized setting with folks who want to help them. THIS SITUATION DEFINES OUR SCHOOL AND OUR BELIEF THAT ALL CHILDREN DESERVE CHANCES AND OPPORTUNITIES, EVEN IF IT MEANS WE HAVE MUCH TO LEARN AND ADAPT FOR THAT TO HAPPEN. WE ARE NOT DEFINED BY OUR LIMITATIONS, BUT THE HORIZONS WE ENVISION AND TAKE ON PASSIONATELY FOR THE CHILDREN WE SERVE.  In support of our learning process as we teach in new arenas, the Ministry of Education has supplied us with a no vision (blind) teacher. (Quick definition - No vision= completely blind, Low vision= partially sighted) We have also been helped in learning along the way with assistance from "Aunty Cis" (our veteran cheerleader and inspiration), the Jamaica Society for the Blind, and the Perkins School for the Blind (online resources and guidance.) 

This process has reinforced our belief that teaching is not a static pursuit. We must remember to teach for how differently-abled children learn. It is for us to understand their learning differences and patterns, and teach accordingly. (Such a refreshing concept sometimes.) Having these children has brought great satisfaction to us in multiple ways. It has reinforced our basic principles that we are always learning as teachers and always adapting as we teach. It has reminded us that the way we speak to parents is important because we remember that what we think we are saying, may not be what a parents is hearing! From this we have begun a better partnership with our parents.  


On a sadder note we have to share that we have lost one of our beloved children. Our dear sweet student Amielle, has gone to live with the angels. Sometimes, with all the best care and love these children receive from everyone they encounter, their challenges determine their destiny. We salute and remember our wonderful Amielle, for the soulful little joy she was to our school, her parents, and all those she touched along the way. We will miss her. I wrote a memorial for STEP Centre to celebrate her sweet self which was used at her funeral. You may click or touch the photo and it will expand to read about her dear self.   

Leslie's thoughts..............

As I think about all I have told you about in this edition, my heart is bursting with pride, gratitude, and yes, some sadness. Many many years ago, I thought hard about the fact that this journey with STEP would be one of sadness some times, because with special needs children, life and loss happens. Their parents are in it for the long haul though. But, what I did not envision back then, was the depth of satisfaction, the heights of joy I would find with them, and the understanding of how much they would bring to MY life and OUR world. Even the most challenged of our children shine a light in the dark part of my soul. Really it is about the perspective in which you view them, and the willingness to open your heart to see and feel their wonder. Our school is an amazing place and these children inspire and motivate us and they leave legacies of peace and love in all those whom they touch along the way.  

Big thanks are in order to some wonderful folks who have been overdue this public thank you over the past many many months. We were working hard with the children, but communicating here less, so.....    

1. CIBC First Caribbean International Bank- A really great group of corporate folks who helped us do many really important things. First among them was to replace our microwave which is used to heat up the children's lunches supplied by their parents and guardians. Ours had given its last, and we were really in a bind since some of our children have rather specific dietary needs and textural preferences. Giving them their food heated was just soooo necessary. They also bought us a braille writing machine to compliment our new mission with blindness. Starting from scratch gets easier when you have the equipment to answer the call. They gave us skirting boards on our walls because wheelchairs and walkers can sometimes go haywire and this will help in protecting our walls. Finally (this one may surprise you), they finished our staff bathroom to make it palatable and tiled and better serving of our needs and our guests needs. We had a fully functional staff / guest bathroom, but never had the funds to get it truly in shape for pleasant usage.  They tiled it, floor and walls etc. Somehow when we had so many needs for the kids, we never could quite swing the completion of this. Nope no photo here, Just take my word for it. 😉.            

2. Thank you to Rhys Greenland (son of Rebecca and Jonathon Greenland). Rhys requested that for his birthday, in place of any gifts for himself, donations be made to the STEP Centre which he presented to us. Rhys, thank you for growing up and celebrating your momentous day with compassion and a recognition that sharing your blessings trumps anything you could ask for yourself! We appreciate that.......

3. Thank you to Toyota Jamaica who are always wonderful to us and we are so blessed to be a friend of. Toyota Jamaica was kind enough to sponsor our Christmas card printing so that we could take all the sales as profit and re-invest in our school running costs. Also thank you to Toyota Jamaica who hosted a paint and sip evening in their cafe, the proceeds going to our beloved school. Toyota Jamaica is a corporate citizen with a heart and always rocks it for us. WE appreciate your support of our school -always. 

4. Thanks to Food for the Poor who subsidized the printing costs for our blank notelets sold to raise funds for the school on an ongoing basis. Another organization that does wonderful things and we salute. 

5. We were incredibly blessed this year to begin with our school supplies well stocked with all kinds of school items, anti-bacterial cleaning wipes etc. donated by a mission group who came to visit and sing with the children. Donations collected by Piney River Baptist Church, Calvary Baptist Church (Virginia), the Akucewich Family (Cleveland, Ohio)  and Worthington Friends Quaker Church (Kingston, Jamaica). It was wonderful to not have to outlay so much of our funds at the start of the school year when it could be utilized in so many other ways for the running of the school. 

6. The Family of Hazel Fletcher gave us a hoist in memory of her life. The hoist is
a wonderful tool that allows us to lift our children from a chair to the floor and other locations. This is particularly a blessing for our teachers backs and knees when needing to lift  larger children safely. How kind of them in their grief to give us a gift that will celebrate her memory for the safety and care of our children and staff. 
7. Donations were collected from the funeral of Amielle (memorialized above)  in memory of her and the care she was given while with us. Thank you to Amielle's family who thought of all the rest of our children, even as they grieved their own. Sincere blessings to you. 

8. Thank you to artist Sean Henry who so kindly donated the rights for us to use one of his paintings as a new card graphic this year for our Christmas card 
Boats in the Bay
sales. In addition, Toyota Jamaica had an art exhibition for Sean in their lovely Cafe and Sean donated the proceeds of the sale of one of his pictures to us. Now we all know the life of an artist can sometimes be fulfilling but difficult at times, so it does not go unrecognized that Sean gave us a much needed sale for the benefit of our children. That folks, is a terrific artist with a heart! 

9. Pacers Running Club- Taking on the addition of students with visions issues was a whole new ball game for us. A big thanks goes out to Pacers Running Club who donated the proceeds of their run to us which allowed us to get some equipment to assist in teaching those specific children. This included sensory items that specifically are effective with sight impairments. Thank you Pacers for running and sponsoring in the name of some children who will now get some targeted work for the blind. Starting from scratch is difficult, but you have given us a great boost. 

10. Digicel Foundation - With gratitude for providing us with a creative arts therapist for this semester. This kind of therapy builds personal confidence within our students for them to advocate for themselves and provides an avenue for self-determination in the future.   

11. CAC 2000 Foundation- This term we are blessed to have Carrier Air-conditioning supply us with a music teacher who is experienced with special needs children. We had an excellent staff training session for our teachers via this connection. Always a big hallelujah for more training and music!!

12. Milton Cameron - Thank you to dear Milton Cameron for his donation of some funds to be used for everyday needs. The Cameron family are one of our most devoted people.      

13. Steve Higgins- Picture this.......... one day a fellow is traveling around in
his car and gets lost on the way somewhere but ends up on our street. So he decides as he sees our children entering the school from their Friday neighborhood walk, to stop and park. He wants to meet the children and see the school. After a tour, out comes a keyboard and Steve gives us a little concert. Well hi Steve Higgins. Our kids LOOOVE music, and thanks for the mini-concert! Just a fellow on the wrong street with a big heart that figures THAT must have been where he should be anyway that morning. That is Steve Higgins, who shall now be Uncle Steve. Steve returns home to the states (his now home though Jamaica is where he began) and decides to hold a music recital. On his next visit here Uncle Steve has brought us a donation from his recital. I will continue to say that once you meet our children and our school, we stay with you, your heart is touched and you can't help but be joyful in the the children's presence. Serendipitous maybe, ..... BUT a kind heart Steve has for sure. Thank you Uncle Steve for deciding to be present in that moment, even though it was not how your morning began.  

14. Rowena Conner- Thank you to Auntie Rowena (Conner) who just never fails to support us and advocates for us on a continuing basis. Whether it be card sales or getting us assistance with sponsorship of something, the big heart of Auntie Rowena is ALWAYS there for us and we are soooooo appreciative to have her in our family. Auntie Row, you bless us!!! 

15. Angels who helped us sell our Christmas card including AISK School, Jennifer Mason and others. Our "ANGELS" says it BEST!  

16. Joan Duncan Foundation - supplied us with some new physical therapy mats. Our mats are used not only for the children's play time, but for us to get down on the floor with them to perform therapy stretches, massage etc.