Mainstream School for Slow Learners

SHARJAH - For parents whose children can animatedly describing their surroundings by the age of two and identify words by the time they begin their first year at school, the challenge is to decide from a plethora of schools with diverse curricula.

By (Afshan Ahmed)

Published: Tue 22 Dec 2009, 3:30 PM

Last updated: Thu 19 Jan 2023, 2:34 PM

But for parents of slow learners, the challenge is to find a school that will accept their child since the options are few and far between in the UAE.

Faced with this dilemma, Malik Haseeb, father of Reema, had to enroll her in a special needs centre.

“She is unable to cope with the normal syllabus, hence was not considered in a normal school,” said the distressed father of the 12 year old.

“We think she will improve faster if she is treated like a normal child.”

With the constant debate on whether children with learning disabilities can receive main stream education, the head of a new school in Sharjah said they are ready to take up the challenge.

The American Community School (ACS) in Sharjah that starts operating next year, hopes to be the option for parents who are scouting for a regular school for children with mild to moderate learning disabilities.

“We want to give kids the opportunity to fail and try again,” Dr. Robert Spellman, head of school said.

“When parents reveal that their child has a problem learning, they are refused admission at many schools.

“The reality is, they need a little more work and kids with learning disabilities actually make the school better because it challenges the school to find solutions,” he said.

The school will be the first in the UAE to offer the POLARIS programme for the gifted, English as a Second Language (ESL) and special needs children. The programme has been developed by Spellman who has specialised in special education from Illinois State University in US. He has also authored books on helping students become good readers. Along with a team of specialists, the programme was created to provide students tools to achieve the goals of the curriculum.

The programme will compliment the US National curriculum, followed by the school, with occupational therapy, speech pathology and reading services.

Students will also be taught with the help of the Lexile system in reading and the Quantile system in Mathematics.

“We are the only school that will be using System44, a computer programme that teachers the 44 sounds of English,” Spellman said.

These tools mould the syllabus and teaching material according to the child’s pace of learning enabling those above average to excel and those with learning difficulties to succeed.

“The teacher can teach the same subject to two children with totally different learning abilities and get the message across.”

ACS is the only licensed co-educational school in Sharjah. The school is an offshoot of the American Community School in Beirut that was founded in 1905.

The school in UAE is located on a 1.4 million square ft. piece of land, near the Sharjah University. Owners will build it in phases, with the first phase complete with 25 classrooms. The school has an outdoor gym, a swimming pool, football ground and fully equipped art and science labs.

Spellman said the aim of the school was to develop leaders and deliver a demanding curriculum with compassion.

He said students will be motivated to take responsibility and achieve.

“A child stops trying when things get tougher because it hurts. So what we see as special needs is smart behaviour on the child’s part,” he said.

“They just need to be challenged.”

Haseeb said he fears his daughter has lost complete interest in education. “She is perfectly normal but unfortunately because she is attending a special needs school, she is being treated like one. We are desperately looking for a main stream school that will support our daughter,” he said.

Carolina Tovar, Director of the Child Early Intervention Medical Center, said a lot of her clients who are parents of children with learning disabilities are struggling to find places in good schools. “These kids are not given the opportunity,” she said. “How will they develop if they are not exposed to typical peers?”

ACS has hired American teachers, trained to teach students from Kindergarten to Grade 6.

The school will also be offering evening classes for students who require extra attention after school. “The evening classes that will use tools of POLARIS and System 44 will not only be offered to the students of the school but also those parents who cannot not afford the tuition fees at our school or chose another curriculum,” he said.

The fees at ACS ranges from Dhs32,000 to Dhs53,000 with special rates for corporate sponsors and government employees.

“Around 60 per cent of our applicants so far are nationals and Arab expatriates. We are anticipating up to 80 per cent more students enroll for the September 2010 intake,” Spellman said.

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