Elly Hudson

Elly

Elly was born by emergency caesarean and experienced seizures just hours later - an early indicator for special needs and a life of resilience. Elly has Cerebral Palsy and started physio therapy at 9 months of age. Elly’s pre-school early intervention centre taught her and her family about independence; seeing possibilities and not the obstacles, and learning the practicalities of doing things yourself.

 

Elly’s school life started in a mainstream public school. Due to her complicated issues she was granted a very high level of government funding yet because she was undemanding and presented so well her teachers and aides didn’t think it was necessary to learn how to teach her. Despite the many frustrations Elly had a good memory for reading and her family endeavoured to teach her as much as they could at home. Eventually discovering Elly had a mild intellectual disability, combined with the fact that her few school friendships were limited to others with special needs, she transferred to Ashwood Special School.

 

Unfortunately the school’s teaching priorities were mainstreamed and without any real specialist focus. Parents often complained about the lack of homework and the teaching of life skills. Teachers openly told some parents they didn’t believe their students could learn important life skills like reading which meant they didn’t need to offer any specialised assistance. This made school time simply about being busy and put the responsibility of challenging and teaching on to the parents.

 

This early experience had Elly’s mother, Anita, always asking a lot of questions. She came to understand that most of the school’s Year 12 students left for placements at government funded factory style packing centres that paid virtually nothing. This knowledge fuelled her determination to find a more fulfilling way for her daughter to spend her adult years and this started with establishing a hard work ethic.

 

As an example, in grade 5, Elly was the only student in her class that could read analogue time. The skill was learnt with disciplined daily repetition whilst driving to school in the car over a 6 month period using a customised learning clock. This was a challenging task for both Elly and Anita who hasn’t had any teaching experience. This effort saw Elly wearing her first analogue watch in primary school. This skill is taught to senior high school students, thus acknowledging the schools belief this is an important skill yet because of their ineffective curriculum and unspecialised teaching practices few students leave school with this skill.

 

Non-specialised, irregular classes on any topic ensures very little will be learnt. Unfortunately a consequence of this style of teaching ensures everyone; teachers, parents and the students themselves then believe they’re incapable of learning.

 

At Elly’s high school, Heatherwood Special School, her family abruptly learnt this school was also focused on keeping the students busy but not learning very much. Disappointingly special schools aren’t accountable for their results despite almost 100% of their students experiencing lifetime unemployment or government funded work that pays virtually nothing.

 

Anita felt blessed to have met the school’s Careers’ Mentor, Mark Walker, by chance outside of school. Mark doesn’t usually have family contact until Year 12 when most families have already made career pathway choices. Meeting Mark in Year 9 was a life changer. Elly’s career dream was to be a teacher and after meeting with Mark, Anita established that a Certificate III in Childcare was achievable despite the belief of other teachers in her school. In our state a Cert III is the minimum requirement for working in the childcare industry. Having this information early allowed Elly to focus her energy in one direction. First, in Year 10, she sought two weeks work experience in the same childcare centre she had attended. They don’t normally host work experience students but they made an exception for Elly. She enjoyed the experience so much Anita started investigating other opportunities. Initially disappointed to discover that nearly all childcare centres don’t engage volunteers she was recommended to a Not For Profit centre that welcomed them with open arms. Elly started “working” a few hours during the school holidays and loved it so much she left school every Friday at lunch time and skipped the school’s compulsory “unproductive” social activities program. Eventually Elly found a number of after school and weekend opportunities in a variety of settings: kindergarten, long day care and an early learning centre. She also volunteered at an aged
care facility with a friend which allowed her to have assisted real work place experiences outside of childcare. Some weeks in Year 11 Elly was volunteering four times a week which over the year totalled to more than 600 hours. Elly’s perspective dramatically changed. Not only did it feel good to be productive it felt odd not to be. Spending time with particular children was the highlight of Elly’s week. Elly then started working on days off school like curriculum days and lots more time during the school holidays. When one position finished other options were explored. Then a Saturday morning position at a multi lingual learning centre led to an offer of a traineeship at a long day care centre when she finished school. Through all of this effort Elly did not need to take valuable time off school to establish her interest in working in this industry or to achieve a job opportunity when she finished school.

 

It was this same commitment and hard work that made Elly proud to obtain her Driver's Learner's Permit on her first attempt. Elly’s now having driving lessons and looks forward to driving herself to her new workplace.

 

 

Anita, Elly’s Mum, is advocating for change; to make special schools accountable and to #EndDisabilityLifetimeUnemployment. To achieve this massive changes will need to be made. A goals based curriculum combining specialist teaching practices. A life skills based curriculum where mostly irrelevant subjects like woodwork, horticulture and performing art aren’t compulsory. Time wasting activities should stop; washing teachers’ cars, recycling, craft activities and social time. Homework should be encouraged. School finish times should align with mainstream schools to maximise learning time especially for those not using the shuttle bus service. Careers mentoring should commence in Year 7.
Students should be encouraged and supported to trial work placements outside of school hours to maximise valuable learning time. Work experience and job placements that never lead to work opportunities need to stop.

 

email Anita for updates on the #TeachUsToo campaign
and the new educational app series specifically for those with special needs

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