Bringing in a little bit of Hope

 A small school based in Grand Harbour is offering hope and special care to students who require specialised education.
   The Hope Academy caters to children with special needs, and also to students whose parents prefer them to learn in a small class environment.
   In September last year, Samantha Tibbetts opened the school, which now has just over two dozen students.
   “We’re in our first academic year here,” said Tibbetts, who hopes to expand the school, both in terms of physical size and the number and ages of students who are accepted there.
   Having small classes makes it easier for the students to learn and for the teachers to teach because there is more interaction and one-on-one time between the pupils and educators.
   No more than 12 students are in a single class or group in Hope Academy.
   Children ranging in ages from five to 13 attend the school this year, but Tibbetts is looking for students both younger and older for the next academic year, to fill classes for pre-kindergarten to Grade 8.
   The school also offers programmes for gifted children who, as happens with children with autism and other development issues, fall between the cracks in some traditional classrooms.
   “The kids that are gifted are often the ones who are left out. For the kids at the top end, teachers just pile more work on them rather than different work. They learn differently and we cater to them here,” Tibbetts said.
   Teachers at Hope Academy are specially trained to deal with the children who attend the school.
   And it differs from other schools as well in that the students get to take part in plenty of outdoor activities. “We use the skate park three days a week for recess. The students have to earn the privilege of going to the skate park,” Tibbetts said.
   The school has its own cognitive behaviour therapist, speech and language therapist and an occupational therapist, and has partnered with a psychologist who visits Cayman every four to six weeks to evaluate children to determine what special care and assistance they may need.
   Tibbetts says she is filling a gap in the educational needs of children who require more help, encouragement and attention than others.
   Psychologist Jill Kelderman has partnered with Tibbetts to assess and evaluate children in Cayman.
   She is based at the Centre for Pediatric Neuropsychology in the US and offers specialised, indepth neuropsychological evaluations of toddlers, children, and adolescents with a variety of neurological, medical, and neurodevelopmental conditions.
   These conditions can include ADHD, dyslexia, epilepsy, neuromuscular disorders, traumatic brain injury, genetic syndromes, metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders, developmental delay and behavioural problems.
   “I started coming to Cayman in October and I try to come every month or six weeks,” she said, adding that she sees on average one child a day as each evaluation can take eight to 10 hours.
    “Since I’ve been coming to Cayman, I have  seen about 20 kids,” she said.
   With those children, she has seen a wide spectrum of disorders.
   “Parents and teachers are trying to figure why the kids are struggling in school and how to help them,” she said.
   “The evaluations are not necessarily to provide a label but to understand it and treat it,” she said, adding that some parents may be reluctant to have their children diagnosed for fear of them becoming labelled.
   In Cayman, there are approximately 120 young children on the Cayman’s  Islands Early Intervention Programme roster, set up to address educational and welfare needs of the islands’ youngest inhabitants.
   The exact number of children in Cayman with autism, ADHD, other learning disorders and special needs is not known. However, according to 2007 statistics from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, every one in 150 children in the US were autistic, with the majority of those with the disease being boys.

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