Journal Entry from Day 8: Wednesday May 28
Today was our second day at the New Horizon School. Check out their website for pics of the school and students--http://www.newhorizon-school-gh.com/. The school is a non-governmental organization that calls itself "an educational and vocational center for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. While they are cannot afford to hire formally trained special education teachers, it seems they have been able to find a staff of individuals who do want the best for their students are are genuinely interested in learning what they can do to further increase student interaction, independence and overall functioning. On our first day we got a tour of the school and of the sheltered workshops (which are the vocational section of the facility). We also had the opportunity to spend some time in the classrooms talking to teachers, health care assistants and the students about their days and how we can contribute to their daily experience at the school. Day 1 was really fun. The workshops are great-- the are open air rooms organized like little pods around a central grassy courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard was a huge speaker, from which was playing very peaceful, upbeat gospel music. The students all sat at their work stations engaged in tasks ranging from sewing, stuffing pillows, basketry, doll making, batik making, cardboard furniture making and door mat weaving. Each room had an instructor overseeing everything as well (this is in stark contrast to the Accra Rehabilitation Center we visited later). In the classrooms students were group according to skill level and worked on everything from math and spelling to handwriting and matching. That said, there seems to be a lack of engaging and age appropriate activities, especially for the students assigned to the autism classrooms. In the classroom I sat in I found students seemed hungry for interaction-- wanting to play games together-- but there were no cooperative games made available to them. During activity time everyone was given their own sorting or matching game (few of which were age appropriate and none of which were especially engaging, with the exception of Lego's). So we set up simple turn taking games to encourage both interaction and use of the hands the student's frequently neglected to use.
Last night we made a variety of adapted tools with the MacGyver kits to bring back to the school for the students to use, and hopefully to give the staff and idea of how to adapt every day items to make them more useful for their students. We presented these items during an in service for the staff and did a demonstration of proper transfer techniques during that time as well. They seemed to enjoy our presentation and I hope they are able to continue to use the information and tools/materials we left them. After the in service we went to the classrooms and demonstrated the use of some of the items for staff working in those classrooms. For example, we had specifically made adapted eating utensils for two students with CP in one classroom so we we tried them out to see which ones worked the best (if any at all) for each student and to resize them. We also made several adapted writing tools, a homemade sockaide, a long handled sponge, and adapted scissors. The school also has a phenomenal resource in the form of a volunteer physiotherapist from the Netherlands. Watching her in action was just awe-inspiring. She has been able to create so much and initiate to mane projects at the school that it just amazes me. Her energy and enthusiasm was contagious-- and really set a new standard for me, if I can go into any situation with half her enthusiasm and energy, I think I'll be doing really well. She is working with a project called Appropriate Paper Technology through People Potential. It's really cool-- she's making all kinds of chairs, trays, tables, standing frames, etc. out of layered cardboard glued together with cassava paste and paper and then covered in newspaper and sealed with cassava paste. She's basically making her own triwall and then making all kinds of furniture for the school-- both as tools for the students to use in the classroom but also as merchandise to sell in the craft store. It's really amazing. The website is http://peoplepotential.org.uk/page6.htm.
Overall the past two days have been more successful for me than last Saturday's screening day (I think anyway), I felt like I could answer questions the teachers had and I had suggestions for teachers in the classroom. In my big book of firsts (there have been a lot of those here in Ghana), in working in the classroom with the two students with CP, I got to assist in a feeding session. I accomplished nothing, the student I was working with was absolutely not interested in using a straw and the cup with a handle that we made for her was just not quite right for her. So, not exactly a smashing success, but I got to increase my experience working with children with CP (which wouldn't have been hard to do, since my experience level was at zero when I landed in Accra). The best part was just getting to work with kids-- they're so fun, the say the greatest things. Being surround by children for 4 of the past 5 days makes those first days full of painting in the hot African sun completely worth it.