DR RADICA MAHASE
Nelson Mandela said that, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Educating people about special needs and disabilities can lead to a more inclusive society. Educating people with special needs and disabilities can help them to achieve their full potential, live independently and lead more fulfilling lives.
We live in a country where special-needs education continues to be inaccessible and inequitable, but there are some special individuals who continue to play a significant role in our society.
Mitzy Sandy is one such individual.
Sandy is 38 and has 14 years of experience in the field of special-needs education. She is the principal of Ad Astra Private School, a school for special-needs children which she founded herself, in Marabella. She is a recent recipient of the award for Committed Educator, Autism Superhero Award 2021, organised by Support Autism T&T. This award is given to a teacher/educator who has worked consistently to make a difference in the lives of individuals with autism.
She has a degree in special-needs and inclusive education from the University of East London in England, with first-class honours. She returned to Trinidad in 2011 and worked with various organisations before founding Ad Astra,where she is special educational needs teacher.
Sandy’s interest in special needs education goes back to her days as an A-Level student at Pleasantville Secondary School (she previously attended San Fernando Central Secondary School). Sandy noted, “Whilst writing A-Levels, a good friend of mine would tell me about his twin cousins who lived abroad – both of them were on the autism spectrum, presenting with different needs and challenges. We would talk about the issues faced by their parents in caring for and educating them. After one of our talks, I told myself I would like to teach these children.
"It would not be until I moved to England in the early 2000s that I would really be set upon that road. I was able to volunteer and find work placements in various schools and charities whilst pursuing my degree. This provided me with invaluable experience that I treasure to this day.”
She is dedicated to the practice of educating children in a way that provides accommodations, whilst celebrating their individual differences and addressing their special educational needs. Sandy focuses on the individual child, encouraging the child to develop their strengths while working on their weaknesses. She has worked tirelessly to prepare many children for entrance into primary school and she also works with older children in personalised one-on-one sessions. She makes learning fun and engaging so that children look forward to being with her.
Sandy noted, “I love that no two days are the same. I enjoy teaching each child according to his or her ability level, and to witness that child master a skill that was once considered unattainable, brings me great satisfaction. I enjoy supporting parents who may, at times, find the world of special needs education daunting. Most of all, I love being with the children – watching them grow and learn in their own unique way is always refreshing.”
Every profession has its own challenges and in the case of special-needs education, Mitzy noted, “If we were to consider our current situation, I’d say that providing quality teaching in a distance-learning format has proved incredibly challenging. While some children have been able to thrive others have been significantly impacted.
"I would say that access to resources can be difficult due to lack of awareness. Usually, special-needs teachers create their own resources, formulate their own data, and devise their own best practices, which can put a strain on you at times. It would be great to formulate a community where we can all work together for the good of all children.”
Sandy’s advice to other teachers: “I’ve heard a lot of teachers say that they are not qualified to teach children with special needs. I would like to remind them that teaching is your superpower – if you can teach one child, you can teach every child.
“At the risk of sounding clichéd, ‘Time flies when you’re having fun.'”
Congratulations to Sandy as she continues to follow her passion of helping children with special education needs to access quality education. She brings hope to many parents whose children are taught by her and inspires other teachers to make a difference in our country.
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T