New school teaches kids through art, music, dance

New school teaches kids through art, music, dance
Students jumping on the trampoline track during a gym class at Melbourne Specialist International School on Monday. The school, which already has nine students but opens officially today, hopes to take in 100 students by the end of the year.

A new school teaching English and mathematics to specialneeds children through drama, dance, music and art has opened here.

The Melbourne Specialist International School (MSIS), modelled after Australia's well-known Port Phillip Specialist School, uses an artsbased curriculum for students with learning, emotional or behavioural difficulties, or physical disabilities.

The school, which already has nine students but opens officially today, sits on a 15,000 sq ft piece of land in Loewen Road, in a singlestorey building that was part of the former Tanglin Barracks.

It takes in those aged three to 18 with conditions such as autism and Down syndrome, and has a gym, dance studio and classrooms equipped with devices such as an interactive touchscreen table.

Principal Juliet Cooper said each activity has an objective.

For instance, students can learn how to communicate through role-playing and acting out scenes, or choreographing dance movements.

Such expertise and facilities do not come cheap.

At MSIS, fees range from $21,400 to $28,900 each year - typical of other such private schools here which do not get government subsidies.

But parents who can afford it are often willing to pay such amounts to bypass long waiting lists at public schools.

A number of these private schools have opened in recent years. There are now at least nine registered with the Council for Private Education, alongside the 20 public ones run by the Ministry of Education and voluntary welfare organisations.

While there are no figures on exactly how many specialneeds children there are here, about 10,000 are known to attend mainstream schools, with half that number at public special education schools.

MSIS founder Jayne Nadarajoo noted that demand at private schools has increased, probably because children are getting diagnosed earlier, and due to increasing awareness among parents.

"We hope to give them reallife skills, help them be independent and find further training or jobs by the time they leave us," she said.

Like MSIS, more teachers and organisations are recognising that some students learn better through the arts.

Three years ago, the National Arts Council started a pilot programme to develop art classes in special education schools.

The initiative has since been taken up by nine schools. MSIS hopes to take in 100 students by the end of the year.

Mrs Jennifer Hanawalt and her husband have already enrolled their 10-year-old son, Oliver, after moving here last month from the United States. The boy has moderate autism

and global apraxia, a condition where the muscles of the body cannot move or react properly.

The couple had looked at other schools but "they did not have enough staff and resources to support him", said the 38-year-old, who worked as a clinical psychologist in the US.

"Oliver also loves music. Using the arts helps children who don't communicate in the typical way to express themselves."


This article was first published on February 6, 2015.
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