A class that's full of love and hugs

By Lin Ferguson

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There's a good feeling in Room 7, Tawhero School's Satellite Class, and any visitor is big news to these young students.

There's nothing quite so heartwarming as being greeted by kids with wide grins and big eyes watching your every move while teacher Megan McArthur beams a radiant welcome.

"Helloooo," she said. "come in, come on in and see us."

Arahunga School in Gonville is the base school for the satellite classes, which have around 57 students in the classes at five Wanganui Schools.

The little ones are at Tawhero School and Carlton Schools, then they go on Rutherford Junior High, Gonville School and Cullinane College.

Arahunga is where where the grown-up 16 to 21-year-old students go to learn life skills, which encompass everything from cooking and gardening and they head out regularly into the community for work experience in a wide range of industries.

All the specialised satellite teachers go into Arahunga school once a week to compare notes and catch up.

They are teachers who are all are hugely experienced, Arahunga headmaster James Abernethy said in an earlier story.

They were all wise people with great educational knowledge, he said.

"Their satellite classes within the mainstream schools are all innovative and leading edge,"he said.

Arahunga School stretches way beyond Wanganui to New Plymouth across to Waiouru and down as far as Levin.

And even its itinerant students have individual educational programmes tailored for them.

Mr Abernethy said all the teachers understand the student's needs and are hugely committed to their progress and welfare.

And this was very clear at Tawhero.

As Ms McArthur said, working with these young students was always a challenge and extremely rewarding.

Large diaries laid out on a table are opened to that day.

Each child has a diary which they take home at night and bring in the next morning. At night their parents write in a comment about what the child had done at home that night, from helping with the dishes to working on the computer.

And at school not only are there reports on how they managed through the day, but the teachers take photographs of them doing an activity, print it out and stick it in their personal diary.

"They make for great reading and it's exciting to see each child's progress on a daily basis,"Ms McArthur said.

Just last week one small boy aged 6 who never talks climbed a tree in the playground.

When he reached the top he suddenly yelled "I did it, I did it."

"It was wonderful, it was just incredible to hear him yell out. He never talks. What an exciting day that was."

In fact, most of these little ones can't talk when they start school, Ms McArthur said.

Going to a mainstream school was wholly a parental decision, she said.

"It is the parents who decide where their child would be better off. But most, really, like to send their children to school so they have social interaction with other kids and not just their family.

Many of these satellite children have autism, some have Down syndrome, others cerebral palsy and a few have other conditions that also need specialist teaching.

Education specialist Wendy Lawson's description of autism:

"I know I am alive; I breathe, move, talk and function just like any other human being. However, I understand (because it has been said to me) that other people perceive me as being different to them ... Life seems to me to be like a video that I can watch, but cannot partake in."

The Ministry of Education's Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) provides funding support for these children with the highest level of need to help them join in and learn alongside other children at school.

Even though these children start in their satellite classroom, many go on into a mainstream classroom a few days a week, accompanied by a buddy (a student from that class) and dedicated teacher aide.

At Tawhero School it was so encouraging seeing the "ordinary" everyday kids hurtling into Room Seven in the mornings and at lunchtimes to say hi to their little mates.

Their differences are celebrated here by everyone.

On October 31, Halloween, the satellite kids held a lunchtime Halloween party for everyone who wanted to come.

"We had so many children come in to join us it was fabulous."

The lunch included cheerios with tomato sauce (dead fingers in blood!), cupcakes iced like Egyptian mummies with white icing bandages, and brown spider cake with beady eyeballs and spindly legs either side.

A store cupboard was converted into a dark, "ghosty"room, which was the ultimate in spooky with gut-wrenching sound effects, dangling spiderwebs and flashing lights.

Special education is about providing extra help, adapting programmes, learning environments, or specialised equipment or materials to support children and young people with their learning.

Room seven is a large, cosy haven with large windows looking out over the playground. Colour is everywhere, from toys, mats, sofas, tables, chairs and dozens of pictures across the walls.

And over the Christmas break the room is to be renovated.

"It will be amazing. We can't wait."

One small boy who has been watching Ms McArthur's every move, grins from ear to ear.

"It will, it will," he yells and jumps in the air. And what better time for a big hug?

"We have a lot of these,"she laughs. "We're so lucky here in Room Seven."

"Yes, very lucky," her small friend said.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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