On Saturday 23 September 2017, Jon Franzin, Principal, Claire Formby, Speech Pathologist and I flew to Chennai, India to see how we might establish a relationship between 2 special schools: Edmund Rice Special Education Services and Mithra Rehabilitation Centre, a special school in Chennai.

Prior to the visit, we had engaged in conversations with Helen Mahoney, an EREA Board member and Brother Rob Callen, President of the Friends of Mithra. We corresponded with Monica Arogyamary, who coordinates the Life Skills program at Mithra who was able to give us some background and outline some questions she was hoping we might be able to respond to.

On that first day we met up with Monica, who has helped to establish a Life Skills program at Mithra which is a program that teaches the students to be functionally independent so that they can help out at home and eventually maybe find a source of income as well. We shared ideas in the Life Skills room, where we noted a well set up area, a wonderful teacher named Gita and students who very much wanted to learn Life Skills.

In Australian Special Schools, we use many visuals (pictures, drawings, video, photographs etc) to support student learning in the classroom, especially students with Intellectual Disability or who have communication disorders and we thought that in the short time we were at Mithra we might develop some of these visuals to support learning in the Life Skills centre.

We set about photographing the processes of hand washing, dosa making, coffee making, ironing and rice making. By the way, watching rice boil was like watching grass grow! ? We put these photos into a sequence of steps and procedures, with simple captions, then with the help of Sister Manju, had these printed out.

At a presentation to the teachers we were able to demonstrate how we might use some of these visuals to support independent learning by students in our classrooms. We demonstrated using them to sequence steps of a procedure, using them to prompt language, using them to show students the steps so that they could be more independent of the teacher or be working at the same time as the teacher who might be working with another group of students. The presentation was well received and prompted some questions and good discussion amongst teachers.

We were overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit and self, the sense of welcome and the genuine desire to learn that we discovered and felt every day at Mithra! Having had the opportunity to work alongside our Indian colleagues was both humbling and uplifting – we are so aligned as schools and yet our contexts are vastly different. I left this beautiful community with a strong sense that the vision that Mithra has for its student population and families is truly founded in action and which delivers each day its mission of hope!

~ Dianne Hooke | Head of Campus | St Gabriel’s School | Castle Hill, NSW.

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