The month of March began with the school moving towards the culmination of the year. The entire school had done their second term assessments and the Junior School was involved in Intensive Integrated Programmes, and throughout school different classes were hosting birthday celebrations with aplomb. Simultaneously, the Principal and Co-ordinators were busy easing out their nitty - grittes of the oncoming graduation of senior students and the incumbent ceremony, which would engage the entire staff - the much awaited Graduation Ceremony is the culmination of the hopes and desires of all and a bitter - sweet moment of fond farewells. The Principal had discussed a Graduation farewell party with parents and they ever very enthusiastic about it, to the extent that Mrs. Shah (Ishita's Parents) offered to tailor the graduation uniforms and Mr. Vasi (Mustafa Vasi's Parent) offered to organized special jackets. The administration was also involved in completing the special memory books as momentos for the students to remind them of their journey in school. Further, they had also held a meeting to inform the parents of their effort to secure a Certificate from the Technical Board, for the students. This was much appreciated the parents. It was at this stage that Covid-19 interrupted the school's progress.
As the pandemic began its upward curve, the Principal Ms. Fionika Sanghvi, following the staggered instruction of the Governmental and Educational Authorities and the Technical Board, announced closures in small measures till eventually the lockdown came into effect, throwing the school into uncharted waters... What now? Unprepared and dazed parents appealed to the school for direction and students jerked out of their routine were unsettled and alarmed. The Principal and her team understood that parentage during the pandemic was an entirely new challenge for families of children with special needs. The closing of the school meant the loss of a support network that managed everything from teaching the children how to grip a pencil or button a shirt, to social skills and handling of full blown meltdowns. Many parents had been abruptly thrust into full-time roles of teacher and caregiver, while labouring under the limitations of social distancing and working their paying jobs at home. The administration, however, quickly moved past the primary inertia and set guidelines and programmes in place.
The most pressing need of the hour was to reassure students and parents of the school's continual involvement, support and shared responsibility to get past the upheaval. Using 'What App', the entire faculty quickly connected through video-calls with the students and parents, easing the children anxiety and reinforcing their families. The children were ecstatic talking to their teachers and friends. The next step provided clarity on the novel corona virus disease and the all important prevention of and protection against the viral infection. Based on guidelines provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), an E.book 'Corona virus ' Covid-19', designed by Coordinator Ms. Priya D'Souza and edited by Ms. Fionika Sanghvi and Ms. Kashmira Vazifdar was immediately uploaded. The E.book explained in simple terms, disease, its course, symptoms and prevention, with graphic visuals for clear understanding. (Incidentally, the book has "gone viral" within the country and has reached London, Australia and Dubai).
Moving on, the faculty with the help of our Counsellor - Ms. Kashmira Vazifdar, grappled with the stress and, at times, despair of the overwhelmed parents. Placating parental emotions, the teachers emphasised that the parents should control what they could and structure the day with a routine and a time table. They were asked to focus on the moment with their children, while using mindfulness, breathing technique and yoga to generate interest, involve the children in activities with them, keep in touch with the teachers for support and remember that however extended the time period, this was temporary and would end. Similarly, calming the students through video calls, the staff prepped them with commonplace conversations leading to more constructive activities. Ms. Vazifdar also conducted sessions with senior students where the students shared their fears and feelings. Ms. Vazifdar counselled them to think positive and use this period effectively to learn new skills.
Having eased the trauma of parents and students, the Principal and staff quickly assessed the situations and came to conclusions. In the wake of Covid-19 and the closure of school, it was accepted that students would be impacted one way or another especially in three main areas of their lives - mentally, physically and academically. Humans like to be in groups and thrive on socializing. There was no doubt that social distancing, self isolation and school closure could and would result in anxiety, depression and general angst. A side effect of self isolation would be a reduced amount of structured and incidental exercise students would access during the day, which would impact not only their physical bodies but also loop back to impact them mentally. Further, with the school closed, other avenues of teaching academics would be needed. Due consideration was given by the Principal to virtual learning and quickly short, online curriculums were formulated, supported by hands on activities, projects and ideas using materials at hand, and would be executed through the month of April 2020.
The Formative Years concentrated on craft activities to start with. Activities based on passed syllabus were suggested to the parents, in English, fine Motor skills and Social skills. The teachers also suggested a structured time-table be made by parents with at least four half-hour sessions with the students. They suggested strategies like weighted wristbands to improve writing skills and use of the App - AWAZ.
The Intermediate school worked on images of the virus and its prevention. They were given follow-up activities on the subject to create awareness of the pandemic. Fine Motor and Brain boosting activities were shared with parents as were games, simple activities, audio stories and reading material to keep them engaged. Parents were asked to explore Horticultural Therapy, online. The staff also suggested numerous online resources. Teachers also gave ways such as household chores to encourage enhance and utilize student skills.
The Vocational Courses conducted video calls to connect with the students and ease their anxiety, and gave parents direction to work for the week. Interacting with the students enhanced communication and social skills. Sessions were also planned with therapists to provide strategies during the lockdown period. Closure sessions were also held where students were guided in appropriate behaviour, obedience to parents and the work assigned as homework. During these sessions, students were very happy to interact with their teachers. Each department of the Vocational level crafted activities relevant to their own stream and suggested recreational games, task related activities, concepts regarding colour and shapes and recognition of the environment.
The therapists suggested programmes according to the class and the individual level of the students, complementing and supporting the activities suggested by the teachers. The Occupational therapist designed programmes for each class and individual students. The Yoga teachers uploaded a video for instruction and formulated daily exercises for them. The Dance and Movement therapist designed a programme for each class and the Sports Coaches instructed them in daily exercises.
Having successfully navigated the first months of the pandemic and keeping the education programme on track, the staff and administration have gone above and beyond to deal with the crisis.
The term has been ended with meticulously detailed reports mailed to the parents and online discussion being held individually. The parents have been highly appreciative of the 'Open Days' and are reassured by the extend of the staffs involvement with the students and their deep knowledge of their charges - the teachers could enumerate the activities and skills which the students could perform and which the parents had no knowledge of.
Capacity Building Workshop is a permanent and much appreciated tradition in the school. As the pandemic had deprived the staff of their interactions, they have chosen to self-educate with online courses and webinar. In the forefront is the Principal Ms. Fionika Sanghvi who attended a webinar hosted by Beit Issie Shapiro, Israel, on use of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAA) and On Technology for Play and leisure activities. Ms. Hiteshi Satra attended a webinar on Connection and Communication through movement in persons with autism by India Autism Centre, Ms. Rajashri Ghosalkar, the Sports Coach completed an online sports course, on the international platform, Ms. Tejal Kothari completed "Keep learning in Introduction to Data wise: A Collaborative Process to improve learning and teaching through Harvard online courses and Ms. Jasmine Pandya completed Microsoft Excel - Excel from beginners to advance". Ms. Pandya has also enrolled for Photoshop programme.
On May 9, 2020 Ms. Sanjana Pore and her sister Gayatri Pore were interviewed by Sakal Times, Pune for participation in Special Olympics Bharat.
The Committee of the Special Olympics Bharat also has a cover story on our Senior Student Aparimita Singh in the offing.
Finally, the Principal and Co-ordinators are deeply involved in determining whether virtual education is a viable possibility for the school weighing the pros and cons of the medium. It is an accepted fact that not all students are comfortable with virtual learning; some will be able to adapt while others will flounder. Behavioural issues, sitting tolerance, environment etc, all deserve an in-depth analysis. While virtual learning is a strong probability, it would have to be supported by alternative strategies and mediums.
The Principal Ms. Fionika Sanghvi and the Staff bid farewell to Shreya Mehta, Ritika Yadav, Rashmi Malik, Adora Britto, Amruta Lagad, Shireen Bhesadia and Priti Patel. The Principal was deeply appreciative of them and their contribution to SPJ Sadhana School.
As the year 2019-2020 closes many questions are still unanswered - the main being how do we proceed and when will it end, - we know THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
Following is a Tribute to the Warriors of Sadhana - Your very gifted children. Please watch the attachment.