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.               
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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. 
       
          


Monday, 3 July 2017

CATCHING UP ON THE FUN AND WONDER

Reading comes in stages and making it fun matters! 


Written by Leslie Wan          

This blog will be dedicated to catching you up on all kinds of "doings" at the school. We have been blessed, had fun and have so much and so many people to be thankful for. While the children and staff have been hard at work doing what schools and children do,in a special needs classroom, it pays to sit back every once in awhile and reminisce on all the rest. We wanted to share some of that with you, our faithful readers, because as we always say YOU MATTER TO US and our children are reminded in so many ways that people keep us going. Our children are always taught gratitude and the spirit of giving. If you are the recipient of one of our children's smiles or hugs, you will know it comes from deep and taught places of sincerity............

So here (in no particular order) are memories and thank yous. 


Zoo Day.............Thank you to Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), Recycling Partners of Jamaica  
and Rotary Club of Kingston for providing us with a wonderful outing to the zoo. In a really innovative program, JSIF partnered with Recycling Partners of Jamaica to provide a program that our collected plastic bottles (as we do anyway in our recycling program), were turned in at the Hope Zoo in exchange for our children to have free admission. Both organizations came on our zoo day and welcomed us. As an aside, hats off to Hope Zoo for their ongoing work to make the zoo more disability friendly. Our children have the privilege of being one of the first special needs schools selected by Rotary Club International (Rotary Caribbean Division) for their Early Act Club. Kindly, Rotary Club of Kingston stepped up and gave us the last piece needed for the day by providing the buses we needed to get the children, their caregivers and wheelchairs to the zoo. They also sent some really joyful members to share the day with the children and assist in wheelchair pushing and animal discussions etc. Thank you, thank you to all three organizations for 2 days (children divided into 2 groups) of sheer fun and learning, and the opportunity to be out in the world like all children enjoy. We rarely can find the funds in our budget to be able to do something this fun and this logistical, so THIS was a treasure. 
                   


CONKARAH'S VISIT.....We had a visit from a very special artist this term and the children LOVED IT! On HIS birthday we were gifted with a mini concert by none other than Jamaican artist Conkarah and his musical accompaniment Almando Douglas !! The children really got into his moments and bless him he sang with all his heart and never minded that some of our children just did what they feel and circled around him as he sang to them. Ofcourse no birthday visit would have been complete without the children and staff singing him Happy Birthday. Soo a REALLY BIG big up to Conkarah and Almando Douglas for taking the time to make the children happy on Conkarah's birthday!!! 

BIG UP To Conkarah - the children say "TELL DEM"  
  
STEP Centre thinks Conkarah is a very nice fellow to have given our kids a super thrill on his birthday. As an aside, we recently reminded the children of his visit by showing them one of his newer videos  ( check out the video here) which is full of children playing (and filmed in Kingston,) and they SMILED and WAVED and enjoyed his visit in their minds ALL OVER AGAIN. Good guy Conkarah...Thanks again.

MOTHERS DAY.............. This year we honored our mothers and those who step into the role of mother on behalf of our children. In years past, we have hesitated to do this because some of our children come from charitable children's homes. With the inclusion of caregivers from those homes,we did it just right and the children and mothers had a super day this year. Each child had a cherished person there and each child presented their mother (or their special person) with a plant grown in our garden and a handmade card. It was delightful. Thank you once again to all the Mothers who work and love these children tirelessly. You are all stars in the hearts of your children and all of us who know what you do with dedicated love.  Our guest speaker on the day was the Honourable Burchell Whiteman OJ.  Ambassador Whiteman (and his wife)  have been long time supporters of our beloved school. Ambassador Whiteman, it seems, is a faithful reader of our blog and while he credited the mothers of our children with all the glories they deserve, he also took time to recognize the accomplishments and dedication of our former student Rene and also the blog writer behind THIS chair - myself , Leslie. He took to heart in his talk, one particular blog of ours
which sums up why being with our children is AMAZING.  Thank you again Ambassador (and Mrs.) Whiteman for your longstanding encouragement and for all of your kind words on the day, especially celebrating our hard working and dedicated mothers enduring love.  

Thank you Ambassador Whiteman! 

Look at that face as he honors his mother!


  Thank yous.........

Thank you to Miss Sarah Conway..........
Sarah is a student from Hillel Academy in Kingston who through her own initiative, decided to raise funds for our school via a raffle at Hillel. Sarah had been involved with the school as a participant in a dance recital which featured a wheel chair dance with our children. Apparently, her heart and the wonder of our children, stayed with her and she decided as a service project to help support our school in a meaningful way. Her hard work raised some much needed funds to support our school. So a dear thank you to a special young lady, Sarah Conway,  who leads with her heart and puts her heart into action. We appreciate you Sarah!!!

Gardner Chriropractic and Neurology- 8 Tremaine Rd.  

Our school is blessed with wonderful neighbors and one of them is the above business. We try and emphasize the concept of good neighbors with the children. On many Friday's, our children take a "walk" or a wheelchair ride on our street to get out and about in the sun and to have a chance to see the flowers, plants, birds etc. I suspect our neighbors enjoy seeing them being a part of the world. On Teachers Day, one of our neighbors gifted all our Teachers and staff with "goody bags" and that was Gardner Chiropractic. The bags contained chocolate, key rings, scented candle etc. It was a lovely gesture from them to recognize the diligence of our teachers. We thank you neighbor for the bag of treats! It means a lot to our school to have good neighbors and friends.


Isabelle Miller   (with help from her friends) 

One day we had a visit from a young high school student from the states named Isabelle Miller. Her parents are Jamaican and they stopped in to deliver a package from someone from the states. Isabelle stayed for awhile and chatted and played with the children, and well, seems she was smitten as most folks are with our kids. Isabelle decided when she returned home, to raise some funds through a project at school, and put together a wonderful box of educational activities and toys for us to work with our children. What a surprise to us!! .....While the fact that she did this just because of a chance encounter and introduction to our children is enough, we were really touched by how carefully selected all these toys and educational gifts were. They were selected with the thought of our children's abilities and challenges in mind. She selected with such a conscious thought for what would be beneficial specifically for their joy,  AND for their user friendly works. That folks, is a young woman who sees children who have joy, but celebrates them by putting effort and value not only in the giving, but in selecting just what would be important for their goals and well being. Isabel, you are special!!! Special because you cared from just one visit, and special because you grasped the best ways to bring real joy to our children on THEIR levels!!  THANK YOU ISABELLE!!   
A thank you and a fond farewell to Janice Weiss

We recently bid a fond farewell to a volunteer who had been with us for 3 years. It is always sad when our volunteers leave, but Janice's time in Jamaica had come to an end. What she gave to  us and our children while she was here, was incredible. Janice cherished the children, their stories and saw all kinds of ways to bring light into their lives. She baked for us, volunteered at least once a week at the school as a dedicated student teacher. She made some of our teens feel like they were special in a world of difficulties. She never said no, whether through fundraising, extra activities, helping us to get grants or just being a friend and mentor to all of us! I know Janice well enough to know she has tears in her eyes now because she misses the children, and because it truly was a highlight of her time in Jamaica. Janice feels deeply and joyfully, and nothing was better (for her and for them) than her conversations with the children. But Janice stays in contact with us in all the ways that e-mails and social media allow. Janice simply put............You blessed us and we thank you for all of your heart and all of your effort. We miss you, but we love your heart.  


Tables from Rotary Club of Kingston- rock!!   
Thank you to the Rotary Club of Kingston who continue to support us in all kinds of ways that matter. We recently received 3 tables from them in varying shapes and heights which has been a need for a very long time. As we do individual activities and sensory work with the children, it is important that we can do them sometimes individually or in more segmented groups. These tables will give us all kinds of versatility and segmented methods to work on individual goals. Thank you Rotary for being such a wonderful friend and believer in The STEP Centre. Just the best..............   


Blessings from our children to all of you.
       As our school year winds down and we approach our annual sports day, we are reminded of how our children's lives are interconnected to so many people and organizations every year. As I think about it, I am amazed at how our special children, have connected with so much and so many in the larger world. What you have seen in this blog is that while we write effusively about how amazing our children are, all you have to do is stop in to see them, and their wonder and joy become our best Ambassadors for us. Even just a casual hour of chat with them, leaves a lasting memory in the minds of those who meet them. 


 💓OUR CHILDREN ARE THAT SPECIAL! 💓 




Wednesday, 19 April 2017

CELEBRATING RENE- HER WORDS, HER JOURNEY


BEAUTIFUL HAPPY RENE LAMBERT TODAY

Blog written by Rene Lambert and Hilary Sherlock 
Formatted and message by Leslie Wan

Often a child will come to us accompanied by “we just know that Step Centre is the place for him/her” and so it was with Rene. Over and over again we have admired the way parents have made substantial adjustments in their own lives to, not just accommodate, but fulfill the special needs of their child. Rene was one such child. Individuals make a difference when working as a team, and as teachers, we are privileged to be able to know and work with children such as Rene. It is a delight to see them become strong caring adults as the years move on. This blog is a small chronicle of a student named Rene and her journey with us. She has become an exceptional young woman in spirit and drive, and for us, an affirmation that we have a part to play in any life we are blessed to contribute to.    

I (Hilary) first met Rene ( Age 4) when she came to us from “Haughton, not Santa Cruz” as she always insisted…….
Santa's helper Rene

Immediately recognizable were her determination to push herself, her understanding of her challenges and her intellectual abilities. It was a joy to help Rene. One did not have to teach her, only to watch her blossom. She was the epitome of a quote by Mark Van Doren,
"The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery"
Rene and her buddy Sports Day  2008


 It became obvious after awhile, that Rene needed both a more inclusive school setting, and a comprehensive academic program. Though she might sacrifice access to physiotherapy and speech therapy by leaving us, we had to go where her mind was leading her. As much as we miss her, we wanted to expand her world while working her brain muscle in a more structured classroom setting.

While we have remained in contact with Rene across the years, we recently had the privilege of having Rene with us again. Before Rene left for new adventures in America, she visited with us for some days, and it was absolutely a delight to spend some time with her again. She is now a young adult. While together, we had long conversations about life and friendship. She has agreed that I could share some of it with you. Her insights into her challenges (perceived and overcome) and her ambitions, are a wonderful window on determination, conviction, goals and she is truly an inspiration to us all. 

We will begin with her thoughts about what it is like to be a young adult with cerebral palsy (Rene has the athetoid type of C.P.).

Rene: Cerebral Palsy makes it hard for me to do the simple things in life. Even typing this document takes me longer than a typical person. It can be hard when going on the road, because here in Jamaica, there aren't many places that are “disability friendly”, so we have to plan ahead of time. Sometimes it’s frustrating for me. For instance on Sundays, I want to go to Church, but my Mother is usually tired so I end up having to stay home. I understand though, my mother works hard for both of us and wants the best for me. Another instance is when I desire to go out with my friends, I need someone to take me. Typical persons take it lightly that they can get a drink of water for themselves, but in my case, I have to rely on someone to get it for me. Due to cerebral palsy, it can also be a challenge for me when I am eating. Cerebral Palsy affects my muscles. I sometimes get annoyed when I want to pick up something, or put down something, and my hand is all over the place. At the same time it teaches me how to be patient.

HILARY: WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR TIME AT STEP CENTRE?

Rene: I remember the first day I came to STEP, you interviewed me. I felt like I was going to be a comfortable place where I could learn.  Mummy was working in the country, Tammy (my sister) was going to University and we lived in Mona.  

Rene (on her move and the school journey after STEP) : I wanted to move from STEP Centre because I had the desire to learn more about the world around me. Also, I wanted to get exposed to what normal children were exposed to …… I knew that I had more inside of me to get out. My former principal, Auntie Hilary (Sherlock), had a friend and her name was Auntie Suzie (Williams). She was the principal for Liberty Academy at the Priory School. Auntie Hilary begged her to give me a chance at Liberty and she decided to give me a shot. I started out in the Special Needs Department. I completed Grade Two and Three in the Special Needs Dept. and then they decided to move me up to the normal Prep school. In the summer before the first term of Grade 4, I had a seizure. My Mummy decided to keep me home for one term because she didn’t know what was happening. I did not have any more seizures after that. The next term at school was a bit hard because I had to catch up on everything, but I decided that I was going to do extremely well that term with the help of God and those around me. That term I would have to sit the grade four literacy and numeracy exam.  My teacher Auntie Toni, my shadow Auntie Karlene, and my family helped me to get ahead. (Shadow is the person who helps the child with special needs in a regular classroom setting.) It was kind of difficult because Auntie Karlene was not that good at school work. It was amazing to me how I, with God’s help, got ahead in every subject in that exam and I didn’t get the full support from my shadow. During that time, Auntie Suzie looked out for me and since she knew Auntie Hilary, I knew both had the best intentions for me…. the best intentions.  (Our hearts overflow at this point) When I was at Liberty School from Grade two straight up to grade 10, I grew spiritually, academically and socially.

My school life has always been like this, but with the passion and the zeal that I have to be good at everything I do and to SUCCEED, I won’t stop fighting! 


Rene (above) presenting her story at Step Centre at our teen symposium for World Cerebral Palsy Day 

Hilary : AFTER GSAT RENE BRIEFLY ATTENDED ARDENNE HIGH BUT THAT WAS NOT CONDUCIVE TO ALL OF RENE'S NEEDS....

Rene : I didn’t stay there basically because it was too crowded, and for me it was draining – the big classes, and through my school life at Liberty I had a shadow who could assist me and at the other school they didn’t know how to help me. My shadow at Liberty Prep understood me. At Liberty High I didn’t go upstairs, my teachers had to lift me upstairs and my Principal helped to push me.

Hilary:  WHAT EXPECTATIONS AND CONCERNS DO YOU HAVE ABOUT YOUR MOVE TO THE U.S.A.

Rene: My expectations? I want to get more therapy and a better education and I want to be able to be more exposed to other places. I want to find a good Church that I can go to and to get more friends. My friends are mostly big people. I don’t like to hang out with people who are small minded and the only thing they care about is how they look. I mostly hang out with big people.

Hilary:  WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO IN YOUR FUTURE?

Rene: I want to be a theologian and an astronomer. I want to mostly be a theologian because I like to give people hope, and people need that today. And, I want to write books that encourage people and build them up.

Auntie Hilary, You have helped me to be a person who wants to go somewhere and even from when I was a baby! Thank you! 



Final thoughts via Leslie Wan

Young Rene and my Christmas gift made by STEP  
We understand that all our students will not be a "Rene", ....but we are blessed over the years with seeing progress in our students in so many ways. We set goals for our students and we see them blossom as they open up or accomplish their individual challenges and goals. It is an ever changing landscapes of smiles and struggles. What I marvel at on a regular basis and what the teachers and staff seem to understand, is that special is an individual and worthy process (and progress.) Where the children end up is far different than where they began, and what they have given to us in lessons in perseverance and determination is immeasurable! I have known Rene from her youngest days with us. This was a celebration in the making, as she moves on in her journey. 

Good luck and cheers Renee!! You are a star!