Veteran educator and principal at the Ocho Rios Preparatory School in St Ann Beverly Rose has been at the forefront in championing the integration of special needs students into mainstream classrooms.
Her innovative approach has garnered widespread acclaim and serves as a shining example of a caring institution dedicated to providing quality education to every child.
Since assuming the role of principal, Rose has transformed the school into a haven for inclusivity and the integration of special needs students.
Recognising the importance of fostering empathy, understanding, and collaboration among students, the principal initiated a programme that enables young students with special needs to interact and learn alongside their regular peers.
This approach is not only dismantling barriers and stigmas associated with special needs education but is also having a profound impact on the academic and social development of all students involved.
"By creating an environment where differences are celebrated, Ocho Rios Prep has become an institution that prioritises the needs and well-being of every child," Rose told JIS News.
"At this school we believe in the mantra laid out by the Ministry of Education and Youth that 'Every child can learn; every child must learn'. I believe that no child should be left behind. As a person who grew up with a sister who had Down Syndrome and an uncle who had physical disabilities, it became my passion to assist people with special needs. It has been challenging, but I choose not to give up," she added.
Rose said the work could not have been possible without the assistance of her teachers, other members of staff, and parents, who go beyond the call of duty to ensure that the school is run successfully.
She added that it is of utmost importance to make everyone feel included, noting that the school is currently working on a project to construct a ramp to facilitate students in wheelchairs.
"I think it is important to make parents aware that their children are surrounded by love, compassion, and care in the place where they spend most of their waking hours," Rose said.
She added that the school has a pending partnership with a speech therapist who will make herself available on Saturdays to conduct training sessions with teachers and parents on how to assist students who are "non-verbal", adding that she is firmly of the view that behaviour plays an integral role in a school's development.
"As such, we work together with various stakeholders to ensure that students are guided in the right direction. We are faced with many challenges that seem to overwhelm us at times, but with God's mercy and guidance, we will see the light at the end of the tunnel," Rose added.
The educator's journey has been marked by a steadfast commitment to excellence and a passion for creating an inclusive learning environment. With several decades of experience, she has garnered a deep understanding of the challenges faced by special needs students and the transformative power of education.
Rose's vision for Ocho Rios Prep began to take shape when she witnessed the isolation and limited opportunities faced by special needs children.
Determined to make a difference, she embarked on a mission to create a school that would cater to the unique needs of these students while promoting integration and understanding.
"The integration of special needs students at Ocho Rios Prep has had a transformative impact on the lives of both the students with special needs and their regular peers. By fostering an inclusive environment, the school has been able to break down barriers and promote empathy, compassion, and acceptance," Rose said.
"For students with special needs, the benefits of integration are immeasurable. They can learn alongside their regular peers, which enhances their communication skills, social interactions, and overall confidence. The support and understanding of their classmates also play a crucial role in their emotional well-being and sense of belonging," she stated.
The principal said that regular students at Ocho Rios Prep have also benefited greatly from the integration programme, adding that they develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for diversity, empathy, and the value of inclusivity.
Through collaborative learning experiences, they embrace differences, build strong relationships, and develop important life skills that extend far beyond the classroom, she noted.
Rose said that at the heart of Ocho Rios Prep's success is a team of dedicated teachers who share "our passion" for inclusive education. These educators, she said, undergo specialised training to equip them with the tools to succeed.