JIS: Preparations are in high gear at Genesis Academy, where students and teachers are making the final push towards full readiness for the school’s upcoming spell-off.
This is no ordinary spelling competition. It is a contest for high school students between the ages of 12 and 25, who are diagnosed with physical and intellectual challenges.
In this, the school’s second staging of the event, which was held internally last year, students of Genesis will go up against Promise Learning Centre on March 29 to select a top speller.
Donna Lowe, principal of Genesis, explains that the institution caters to students up to 25, some of whom function cognitively at kindergarten and primary level.
She notes that the idea to have a Spelling Bee for special needs children, was conceived and implemented last year by a member of staff.
“They did so well we thought why not have it on our calendar each year and to invite other special needs schools to be a part of this competition,” she effuses.
She notes that the 13 year-old institution, located at South Camp Road, Kingston, serves a wide variety of children with disabilities.
“Some may be Down Syndrome, some autism, some just general learning disabilities. But our autistic children are the ones who tend to be good spellers. Promise Learning Centre caters to autistic children primarily. And so it will be a very heated competition this year, I think,” the Principal notes.
In the meantime, Genesis is conducting internal contests to select the top eight students who will move on to the finals on Wednesday. The participants are placed into two categories – the lower and higher functioning group. Additionally, allowances are made for non-verbal students.
Outlining the preparation process, teacher, Marcia Peak, informs that students were given a list of spelling words a month or two in advance. Class teachers go through the words to ensure that students learn the correct pronunciations, as well as conduct one on one sessions and general practice.
Mrs. Peak explains that teachers have to prepare the students for social experience. “They will be given guidelines on how to stand, how to respond to the words, listen keenly, and pronounce the words. They were also sensitized as to the nature of the programme, for example they will know that judges will be coming in,” the teacher points out.
Care must also be taken for the students who will be visiting. The students, she says, especially those with autism, need to acclimatise to new surroundings.
Therefore, the Promise Centre was invited to take their children to Genesis some time before the day of the competition for them to get accustomed to the environment. They are invited to visit the competition room and to “do a ‘demo run’ with them so they get accustomed to the stage.
“These things can trigger them off. We don’t want on the day of the competition that it is the first time that they are coming to this environment,” Mrs. Lowe explains.
Recalling the inaugural competition, teachers recounted the reaction of 18 year-old Shane Brown, who emerged winner of the higher functioning category.
“He was elated, flabbergasted. He jumped up in the air and said ‘yes!’ It was a situation like ‘I got this’. He was just a normal child in a competition,” Mrs. Peak recounts with equal excitement.
She explains the pride she feels working with these students and how the competition helps to bring out the best in both teacher and pupils.
“It allowed me to feel confident, that though the children have a disability we don’t focus on that, but on the ability that lies within them and just knowing you are able to be part of a child’s life, to maximize that aspect of a child’s education,” she highlights.
“It was more of a humble feeling, just knowing you contributed your part, working along with a child to see that he had applied the guidance given and then the end results came to pay off in the end,” she added.
Ms. Timeka Campbell, another teacher at Genesis, remembers the joy she felt when her charge, 16 year-old Nathan Madden, who is autistic, out-spelled the competition to become winner in the lower functioning category.
“I was very, very happy. His caregiver was very happy as well as she was the one who really worked with him, she points out.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Lowe notes that the organisers try to maintain similar standards as the national Spelling Bee competition, which is hosted by the Gleaner Company.
“We have the quiz master and a panel of judges. But what was different with our Spelling Bee is that we cater for the non-verbal child and so we accommodate where the word would be called and the child would be allowed to write the word. Apart from that we followed all the guidelines,” she says.
She expresses hope that the competition will grow over the years and that overtime, a wider cross-section of special needs schools will participate.
Genesis conducts speech, music and art therapy and operates a life skills curriculum for adults 18 to 25, and a HEART-certified vocational skills training programme. The school was founded by educator Pauline Beaumont, who was in 2016 awarded the Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation for Service to Education.