The Sophia Special School is bridging the gap between mainstream (regular) and special needs learning. Headmistress, Debra Bilal Atu says the school primarily functions as a rehabilitative institution that provides for its students to learn vocational, academic and life 20170125

The students comprise of children who are slow learners, those who have never attended school as well as those who perform poorly in secondary schools. Atu in a recent interview with the Government Information Agency (GINA) explained that the students that come from the mainstream secondary schools are mainly those that would have failed to conduct themselves in an acceptable manner. She explained that these students would have been involved in misdemeanors and sent to the Sophia Special School for rehabilitation. “We try to get those behaviors corrected so that they can be reintegrated within mainstream schools,” Atu said, explaining that the students benefit from education programmes that work to ensure they are better equipped to become productive members of 20170125 1

Atu explained that the students are introduced to 13 academic subjects at the Grade Seven and Eight levels and to the Secondary Competency Certificate Programme (SCCP) at Grade Nine level.

The SCCP is a competency-based modularised programme which is designed with strong emphasis being placed on what students can do in the workplace after the completion of training. Atu explained that the students are offered, five (5) core subjects and one choice elected under the SCCP. She explained however that not many of the students are able to satisfy the necessary criteria for the completion of the SCCP in the stipulated one-year. She accredits this to the written component of the SCCP, which seem to be challenging for the students.

Despite not being able to complete the SCCP within the stipulated one year, Atu noted the students however, remain interested in the programme. “They (the students) are comfortable with the idea of knowing that they would be qualified, and that at the end of completing the SCCP, they will be able to meet the demands of the external working environment,” she explained.

In addition to the remedial and technical vocational education, offered, the students of the Sophia Special School also benefit from 20170125 2

and counselling in classes, group therapy and one –on- one counselling, since the school’s programme is also structured to help students work out their emotional problems, improve their self-image and relate, efficiently to others, Atu explained. She pointed out that the teachers at the school have the tumultuous task of fulfilling a multiplicity of roles “in order to get the students in shape for a better future.” “We have to be mothers, fathers, doctors, counsellors,” she pointed out.

The teachers at the school are of diverse backgrounds and many are experienced working with students with learning disabilities. Atu however makes the case for more specialised training. “Our teachers need training in special education. If we can get this done on a regular basis I would think that my teachers would be more enthused. Not that they are not, enthused but they would be more so, if they are exposed to the several programmes, workshops, seminars and such related activities, that would allow them to better deliver in an efficient and effective manner,” she explained .

The student population at the Sophia Special School currently stands over 350. Some of the school’s students have been able to successfully move on to other technical institutions including the Guyana Technical Institute and the Carnegie School of Home Economics, Atu proudly said.

The Sophia Special School was previously the Sophia Rehabilitative Centre, which was established on February 3, 1975. The Sophia Rehabilitative Centre was the first and only institution of its kind in Guyana. It catered for the rehabilitation of youths who committed petty crimes and were on probation; instead of being sent to the New Opportunity Corps at Onderneeming, Essequibo, the youths were placed at the Sophia Rehabilitative Centre on probation.