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|Touching, Teaching [ 01/12/2011 ]|
A 6-year-old boy lies on a white mattress, quietly watching colorful bubbles circulating in a tall transparent tube. He smiles. He gurgles. "You like the bubbles!" says the woman sitting beside him. She takes his hand, and places it on the vibrating bubble tube. He gasps. "No?" She asks, gently caressing the small hand lying motionlessly in her own. The child relaxes, and the lesson goes on, striving to teach him all he can learn. Because here, like all his peers, he is a student, she is the teacher, and the place is the classroom of a very special school: the school of Reuth Medical Center’s Children’s’ Wards.
Established in 2010, Reuth's school responded to a new law, extending Israel's mandatory education law to include all children, regardless of their medical condition or mental state. Every Israeli child, says the law, is entitled to an education – at a cognitive, physical and sensual level that suits his abilities. Taking up this enormous challenge, and supervised by the Ministry of Education as a 'recognized but unofficial' institution, the school affords a completely new experience to about 20 hospitalized children with severe disabilities – resulting from congenital disorders, brain damage following drowning or choking accidents and other conditions. For here, attending class, they are seen as children, through the eyes of educators, not only through the perspective of medical caretakers.
"Our children, like all children, want and need to learn, and teaching them we achieve some extraordinary results," says the school's special education teacher, Hodaya Rozilio-Vaknin. "With close attention we discover what appeals to each child, which sensory stimuli they respond to, however minutely, and we work to develop their awareness and ability to interact with their surroundings. My heart leaps when a child answers 'good morning' by blinking her eyes, actively reaches out for my hand, or chooses a preferred toy with a nod."
Most school activities take place in the 'white classroom', which is, in fact, Reuth's recently introduced Snoezelen facility: a specially designed multi-sensory environment for sensory stimulation and learning, which no modern service for special needs populations can do without. Providing a safe, neutral setting, the Snoezelen is equipped with a range of stimulation tools, to offer a blend of sights, sounds, textures, aromas, and motion. These are modified by the teacher or therapist to meet the sensory preferences, abilities and needs of every child.
Staffed by a team of special education teachers, Reuth therapists and volunteers, with every six children officially considered a class, the school conducts lessons for individuals, pairs and groups. Some children are taken outside, to explore the world, feel the wind and the sun, or even play on the grass. Others, connected to ventilators, cannot leave the confines of Reuth's Children's Intensive Care Unit, and all activities are brought to them.
Games, artwork, music, songs, stories, and even visits to the blooming therapeutic garden and a kiddies pool filled with cool water, are all part of the normatively fashioned curriculum. As in all Israeli schools and kindergartens, every Friday is crowned with a Kabalat Shabbat to receive the Shabbat, and all Jewish Holidays are celebrated, complete with cards for Rosh HaShanah, candles on Hanukah and costumes for Purim. And of course, every child's favorite festival – his or her birthday – is marked with balloons, cake, songs and dance. All these, and many more creatively conceived activities, are designed to acquaint the students with their own bodies and the world around them, and give them an opportunity for true self-expression.
"Their bodies are disabled, but their souls are great, full of many things," concludes Hodaya with strong conviction. "Often we don't know how much they learn, what they hear, see or think. But it is our task to help them bring out and express their inner selves. To make them feel alive and able, and understand that we love them and believe in them."
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