N Touch
Tuesday 25 September 2018
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Stepping up to train special needs children

Meghan Lee-Waterman, centre, founder and principal of The Academy for Special Needs children with staff and some of her charges.
Meghan Lee-Waterman, centre, founder and principal of The Academy for Special Needs children with staff and some of her charges.

The banner “Every journey begins with a single step” is very relevant to Meghan Lee-Waterman, whose journey began four years ago when she made that one step, took over a special needs school which had been in operation for one year.

She renamed the school The Academy For Special Needs, and brought her own brand of love, patience, kindness, caring and teaching to a small group of students with disabilities.

When the new school term opened, that one step had increased to a giant step, taking the Academy into a large and airy building, which would fulfil the 30-year-old’s dream of being able to accept more pupils, and also to move ahead from cut-off at a 12-year age limit into adulthood.

Having completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Graphic Design at the University of the Arts, London, this young woman came home in 2009. “It was in the middle of the recession,” she says ,“and I worked for about a year in advertising, decided I was not ready to be in Trinidad as yet, took a big jump and moved to South America. I stayed for three months doing volunteer work in Chile, first with autistic and Down Syndrome children and then moved to Peru and added street children and orphans.

“I had always liked working with kids and teenagers in summer camps, volunteered at the Princess Elizabeth Home and other homes in the country, and also at different places that housed special needs children.”

In 2010 Lee-Waterman decided to switch careers and in 2011 started working with special needs children in TT. By 2012 she completed a Masters in Special Education with a focus on autism at the University of Birmingham, England – an intense course with autism as the main part of the degree along with speech and language, and social, emotional behavioural difficulties.

At the opening function, these “special” youngsters adapted with great ease to their new, spacious surroundings as they laughed and played in what would be their new setting.

“The Academy” explained the principal “is about holistic education and not just academics, because we have a much higher teacher/student ratio than other schools so that each child is afforded a one and one student/teacher time and access specially tailored programmes to meet their specific educational needs. To move up to the next level they have to get education based on their needs.

“We teach practical life skills where they learn to sweep, mop, set the table, do laundry and fold clothes. We will take them on weekly trips to the grocery to give them some idea of shopping, with a list they have made so that they can select off the shelves, and pay for items at the cashier. Everything has to be more or less visual as well as practical.

The academy, located in the environs of Port of Spain, can be reached through e-mail: academy.specialneeds@gmail.com


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