KINGSTON, Jan. 29 (JIS): BY: JUDITH A. HUNTER – The Salvation Army School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is on a drive to increase enrolment at the institution.
Principal, Iyeke Erharuyi, is encouraging parents with children who are visually impaired to make the effort and give them the quality education they need. “The Salvation Army School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is the right place they can have that (quality education). We know that parents with children who are blind would want them to be part of the regular school system, but there are some curricula that we offer that these students cannot access at a regular school,” Mr. Erharuyi tells JIS News in an interview.
He cites as examples orientation in ‘Mobility’ and ‘Braille Literacy’, which “the students cannot do without.” The Principal notes that for parents who are unwilling to bring their child to be enrolled, there is an outreach programme where representatives of the school “go from community to community looking for children with this type of disability to register them into our school.”
“All parents or guardians need is the child’s birth certificate to enroll. Our admission process is open right through the year, from January to December,” he informs.
Mr. Erharuyi believes there is nothing like giving a sound education to a child and that “a child with visual impairment is no different from the regular child.”
The school, which is situated at 57 Manning Hills Road in Kingston, has been providing quality education for some of the most vulnerable Jamaicans since 1927 and students who attend are classified as having low vision or totally blind.
Mr. Erharuyi says the institution can accommodate up to 200 students, but presently has 145 students enrolled.
“The institution is a composite school. We provide education for students at the pre-primary, primary, secondary and vocational levels,” he informs.
At present, seven students are enrolled at the pre-primary level; 51 at the primary level; 63 at the secondary and nine at the vocational level. The Assessment and Remedial Department, which facilitates students with multiple disabilities and those who are at an age well above school level, has 15 students.
One of them is 21 year-old Andrew Gentles, who gives the institution high marks for the manner in which it engages students. Mr. Gentles wants to be a journalist and credits the school for its nurturing. He describes his overall experience as good, “because the school allows us to reach our goals and I am motivated by a spirit to succeed and a keen sense of ambition.”
Mr. Gentles has so far completed level one in Office Administration and Information Technology at HEART Trust/NTA and will sit three CSEC subjects – English, Office Administration and Social Studies – this year. He notes that one of the benefits of going to the school is that the teachers have more time to spend with each student. “I am able to go to a teacher and tell him or her that I did not understand a particular subject and the teachers are always willing to go the extra mile to ensure that we grasp what is being taught,” he says.
Mr. Gentles is also enjoying his status as big brother on campus. “As one of the older students I feel privileged as the younger ones see me as a big brother and would come to me and we would rap together,” he tells JIS News.
The institution has 18 teachers on staff, and the school’s curriculum is similar to that in the regular school system.
“We go up to CXC and CAPE levels and we also provide vocational training through the HEART Trust/NTA vocational programme,” Mr. Erharuyi explains.
The school also has an integrated programme where some students are integrated into the regular school system after passing the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). Mr. Erharuyi notes that students at the primary level are able to get the foundation needed to enable them to function properly at the secondary level in the regular school system.
He also cites the passing of the Disabilities Act in October 2014 as a good move. “I want to praise the effort of all the persons involved. We are going in the right direction because for so long we have been lacking in this area. The inclusiveness we have been talking about is now incorporated in this Act,” he says.
The Principal points out that with the Act, some schools can no longer use the excuse of not having the proper facilities to turn down students. He also foresees better job prospects for graduates as companies will also have to make adjustments to their facilities to accommodate the disabled.
“On our part this is going to help us to improve on our own facilities, because we cannot be only talking about other organisations without us not fixing what we have, so it is really a good move for everybody,” he adds.
This year six graduates of the school have been admitted to colleges and universities and presently the Guidance Counsellor, English Teacher and Librarian are graduates of the institution.
The Salvation Army School For The Blind is a grant aided institution and benefits from regular programmes, such as the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH). The Government is responsible for the employment of the staff and provides funding for the operation of the institution annually. The school also gets support from the Salvation Army and their overseas partners and private entities like the Canadian Embassy.