A new Gauteng school, set to open in January 2018, will provide unprecedented hope for desperate parents and learners facing challenges that are not necessarily catered for in either mainstream or special needs schools.
As an Assisted Learning School, The Bridge represents a much-needed opportunity for children with average to above average ability, whose learning is impacted by challenges such as ADHD, ADD and mild autism or anxiety, or who have been through illness or trauma which has affected their progress until now.
“There is a tremendous need for a school focused on assisting learners to bridge the gap between where they currently find themselves, and mainstream schools. Ultimately, the goal is to help each learner reach their full potential and develop strategies that will enable them to return to a mainstream classroom confidently and empowered,” says Retha van Niekerk, Principal at The Bridge, a brand of Africa’s largest private education provider, JSE-listed ADvTECH.
Van Niekerk notes that a distinction should be made between remedial schools, of which there are a number of providers in the country, and Assisted Learning Schools, which are in extremely short supply despite the tremendous need.
“Because of our small classes which are capped at twelve pupils, an individualised learning approach, and therapeutic programmes, we are able to assist learners who are cognitively on par or ahead of their peers, to address whatever the challenge is that has kept them from succeeding in mainstream schools.
“For some, it is gaps between verbal and non-verbal communication skills or where slow processing and auditory discrimination gaps have left them unable to keep up in mainstream environments. For others, it is the impact of serious illness that has disrupted learning or the emotional impacts of trauma. For many, it is a combination of these and the impact on their self-esteem of not having been able to keep up with peers.
“Assisted Learning Schools that tackle these challenges holistically have significant impact,” Van Niekerk says.
She says The Bridge Assisted Learning School will provide specialised education for Grade 0 to Grade 7 children, and that its approach to learning and therapeutic and support interventions will develop skills and self-esteem which are both needed to be able to take on their future learning journey with confidence. The school is situated in a safe and tranquil environment in Beverley, Lonehill, where the needs of pupils have been taken into account from the design of the building, to materials chosen.
In addition to highly qualified and experienced teachers, the school will also employ a team of expert occupational therapists (S.I. trained), speech therapists, and an NDT (neuro-developmental) physiotherapist.
There is also a strong focus on cultural programmes and extra-murals, Van Niekerk says.
“As our aim is for most of our children to return to mainstream schools, and because holistic development supports scholastic progress, we want to ensure that the extramural activities that they would have participated in at a mainstream school are provided. We have thus invested in a mini- Astroturf field where hockey and soccer will be played, as well as netball and tennis courts, and a swimming pool. On the cultural front, we offer public speaking, chess and arts and craft classes, to name a few. There will also be gymnastics, karate and drama classes.”
Van Niekerk says that when parents recognise that the offerings of The Bridge may well match the needs of their child, they can approach the school to initiate a full assessment. Not only does this ensure that the interventions will be targeted, but also that the right decision is being made for the child.
“In our experience, it is often at the end of the first or second term in a new grade that teachers and parents conclude that a mainstream school may not currently be meeting the needs of the child. We will enroll children when the need arises as further delays could damage the confidence of the child and cause further challenges.
“Our aim is to offer a solution to parents who know that a change is needed, but have not known where and how to get the help and support needed – with a solution-oriented, focused programme for their child we intend to address much of the anxiety experienced by both child and parent.”