Saturday, 9 February 2019

SHOWING LOVE AT CHRISTMAS AND BEYOND




WRITTEN BY HILARY SHERLOCK  - NOTE FROM LESLIE WAN


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

AND THE CHILDREN RETURN


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

TEAMWORK AN INDELIBLE CELEBRATION OF THE SPIRIT





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.  



LESLIE'S FINAL THOUGHTS

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

DONOR TO PARTNERSHIP TO OUTREACH AND BEYOND………



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

THE HEART IS NEVER BLIND AT THE STEP CENTRE





WRITTEN BY LESLIE WAN 


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

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.     




           

                
  

Friday, 6 October 2017

OUR SCHOOL YEAR CONTINUES IN THE GARDEN


Blog written by Hilary Sherlock
Formatted and message by Leslie Wan


Hilary Sherlock (Principal of the S.T.E.P. Centre Jamaica)  ..........
In the back garden at the school, there is a large tree. Our Mother Tongue (Albizzia lebbek) tree was one of the few trees we were able to save while building our “new school”.  I think of it as our giving tree. 
It provides welcome shade for our students and staff, safe nesting places for the birds and other garden creatures, and has very much become one of us. I don’t think it is my imagination, but it looks bigger, more lush -  indeed a happy tree. Though it must have flowered before this year, it seems to do so profusely and fragrantly now. It is a living text to seasonal changes and life cycles – a mutual symbiosis of plant and animal interaction. We have no doubt that being outside in nature, is both calming and encouraging for our children. Nature builds our immune systems and encourages us to accept diversity in all things.  As a prominent botanist and nature writer Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote “By a shower of gifts and a heavy rain of lessons, she provides for us and teaches us to provide for ourselves, That’s what good mothers do.”
Our garden started off as a sensory garden and now our friends from the Natural History Museum describe it as a wildlife garden. What could be more sensory than that. Like our children, the garden seems to have a will of its own. We reap sweet watermelons and the sweet potato vine keeps on running. We keep hoping for sweet potatoes. The periwinkles have migrated from their original pots, to grow in clumps through the garden. The birds we feed in the morning, now bravely come through the back door grill searching among the children's wheelchairs for more. It is a garden strong on self- determination and a symbol of the same self- determination we are trying to instill in our students. We feel strongly at the school that children should have a say in their life progressions and destinations, and this is equally important and significant in any child with challenges. Such is our garden, freedom, but within boundaries of health and necessities for survival.  






Sometimes the garden is all about fun. Just before the end of last term we had a delightful water day.  It turned out to be a day full of laughter and infinite fun. The children were jumping on the trampoline while being hosed down, sitting in paddle pools and smiling as if in the sea, and throwing water balloons at each other– adults and students soaked, but all so happy under the tree. Nature play was at its best. While many observers would see only a group of kids having fun, others hopefully see all elements combining in a valuable and joyful learning experience. Certainly our students loved the time of splashing, free spirit and "naughtiness". EVERYONE that day was well wet up and screaming for more - students and teachers alike. 

 Sometimes the garden serves as the muse and provider of gifts for our art projects. Why not use the nature we are blessed with and which we teach our students to appreciate and celebrate. An art activity during our recent summer program confirmed for me the need to create an environment where the children are affirmed with all their differences and given the opportunity to express themselves. Working with Allison (an artist friend) we made eight triangular wooden frames.  We presented each child with a variety of decorating options - found objects from the garden, coloured wool, wire and pipe cleaners. We adults were there only to follow the child’s decorating directions.  From this exploration, we got eight completely different creations. Their creations were as unique as each of them.  

















Likkle Extra from Leslie Wan............

Our garden each year has become more focused and inclusive. It is part of the miracle we envisioned as we dreamed of having our own school building. Yes, way back when, it was a goal as we dreamed of our potential new school. Now all those years later we have created our vision into a reality. As an offshoot of how much we value our garden work and it's symbiosis with our program and student involvement, we are developing a curriculum and appropriate resource material that would allow it to be used to assist and supplement other special schools and early childhood programs. We are now a part of a working group that includes our original mandate, as well as a means to support environmental and plant diversity programs in other school environs. This goal with this group also includes preserving nature and it's beauty and conservation of our natural resources. The members of our working group include the Museum of Natural History, Ministry of Agriculture Public Gardens and the Caribbean Child Development Centre at Univ. of the West Indies. Besides the garden education resources, we hope to also explore ways of making public gardens in Jamaica, more child friendly and educational. 

So as we plant our sunflowers, flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables in our tiny garden, we are aware that this garden we have created, make the butterflies, moths, birds, bees etc come into our children's world. We have saucers for bird baths, seeds for the birds, and butterfly and bee encouraging plants. It is so important to take our children out into the world via our nature "walks" through the neighborhood, and to bring nature into their world with us. Additionally as we have always said in the past, while our first responsibility is to our children and their advancements and educations, our mission has always included the advancement of people, places and spaces outside our own realm. We hope that other schools and children will benefit from our dedication to the natural world that we are providing for our children by sharing our dedication out into the world. Now with the help of some very important and knowledgeable partners we work towards that goal. With God's blessings, some hopeful fertilizer and hard work, we can and will make a difference for us and hopefully the wider community - all from something so fundamental to life. 

Find your joy..........Share nature's wonder.