SAINT Tola’s National School marked the recent opening of its class for pupils with multiple disabilities on Thursday of last week.
The new facility opened earlier in the year and the class is entitled Aoibhneas, translated to English as ‘joy’.
School principal Mary Dunlea Fitzgerald said, “We have opened the new multiple disability class and we’ve got a new prefab. We’re going to be putting a new extension onto the school for the children.
“We currently have four pupils enrolled, a fifth starting in September and we’re delighted with the success of the class so far and delighted to meet the needs of very vulnerable pupils within our community.”
Speaking about the class, she added, “The children have multiple disabilities so they have challenges in relation to communication and movement and daily living skills.
“Typically children with these sorts of disabilities would have gone to a special school and being able to provide the facility in a mainstream setting and allowing the children to be integrated for part of the day into a mainstream classroom, it’s beneficial for the children themselves but also beneficial for the children in the mainstream class and for the whole school.”
As well as a class teacher, Aoibhneas has the equivalent of one a half full time Special Needs Assistants, and Mary said some more staffing would be very welcome.
“We would love more SNA support and that’s something we’ll be working on.”
Over €250,000 has already been spent on providing the prefab and the equipment for the children.
The class teacher is Fiona Burke and she said that a lot of progress has been made during the academic year to date.
“We started in the hall in the school in September and obviously with the needs of the children that wasn’t appropriate.
“We got funding for a room but we had to move into a room for a while and we have our class since January, we’re up and running now.”
Most of the facilities are now in place, but fundraising is going on to kit out a sensory room.
Teaching children with multiple disabilities isn’t an easy job, but she loves it.
“Some days are challenging, we don’t have enough support with SNA access at times, so that can be difficult, the children would have quite complex medical and physical needs.
“But it is the most amazing job, I was quite apprehensive when I was asked to take on the role, but Aoibhneas as Ms Fitzgerald said means joy, and it is a joy and a pleasure to come to work every day. They’re just so responsive and appreciative of everything you do and it’s an absolute joy every day.”
Having the class is very important for families she feels, for the brothers, sisters and parents of the pupils.
“There aren’t too many (classes for children with multiple disabilities) around and you can see with the siblings of the children that are in the class, they absolutely love to see their siblings in the school and it means so much to them.
“When we bring them out to the yard their brothers and sisters come running over and chat to them, it brightens up their day as well.
“For the parents it is so important that they are part of the community and obviously they don’t have to go off on buses because they live locally.”
Lorraine Keane’s six-year-old daughter Robyn is among the pupils in the class and before the plans were made for the multiple disability class, it looked like Robyn would have to take a bus to school each day.
“Robyn was originally in the Acorns pre school here and when she was finishing up in Acorns we were looking at St Gabriel’s in Limerick or St Claire’s in Shannon, because there was no option here in Shannon.
“We live two minutes across the road in Cluain Airne and her siblings go to this school. The fact that Robyn was going to be able to continue on in mainstream with her two brothers, it was just amazing.”
Robyn has really thrived since starting at Aoibhneas.
“I work full time, my husband works and we’ve got three other kids so we could never give her as much attention as they give her here and she has progressed so much, she’s such a happy child.
“When we pull up here and she sees the classroom she starts clapping. She knows she’s going into school and she’s just so happy.
“She has progressed so much, she’s a happy lady since she started here.”