Jamaica’s first inclusive infant school unites children and families

Parents of children with disabilities reassured

Rocquel 'Wendy' Walker-Brown
Photograph of Children at Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy
UNICEF Jamaica/2019/De Anne Ebanks
Children at Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy, Jamaica's first inclusive school.
14 December 2018

Parents of children with disabilities reassured

The moment I walked into Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy, I became fascinated by the way children of varying abilities were interacting with each other. There was no separation and the children were not treated differently – just happily interacting with each other. They each exuded so much energy! 

My chat with parents was enlightening and heartwarming. One mother welled up in tears as she told me of the fear she had when her child was diagnosed with a disability: “that my child isn’t going to have an education.” However, the experience since he started at the academy has been unimaginable. 

Even at enrollment she feared he would be shunned and wondered if it was possible for him to learn. Yet today she is happy with the teacher’s attentiveness and her child’s progress. In her words, “they are giving him more teaching than I could ever give at home”.

It is something most parents never have to think about. Many have already chosen a school before birth, but here was this parent desperately thinking, ‘There is no school for my child!’ That is a dilemma parents of children with disabilities who live far from a special education school must wrestle with. 

A loving learning environment for all children

Another mother expressed how the environment and equipment has made a remarkable difference for her child. She lovingly expressed how her child is learning and tries to teach her what she has learned at school. 

Next, I spoke to one of several fathers. This dad explained that he chose to send his non-disabled daughter to the academy because he wants her to understand from an early age that everyone is equal and disability is not bad – just differently abled. The impact on her was obvious to see. 

“You want a ride?” 

She offered a ride on her bicycle to her classmate who enjoyed a short trip around the schoolyard, guided by her father. Meanwhile the other children called out “Daddy!”, and seeing the warm way he related to them, and to the other parents gave me goosebumps. He is known for giving the kids a ride on his daughter’s bike or carrying them on his shoulder to school. “Sometimes, them knees weak, and them need a little help,” he explained, referring to the children who have mobility challenges. 

Super dad playing an active role

This father had taken it upon himself to ask, ‘What if my child had a disability, how would people treat my child?’ And so, he treats them the way he would want his child to be treated, and he passes this on to his daughter, who is this friendly ball of energy. We need to tell our children from an early age how to love each other, regardless of their differences. Such positive socialisation sets them up for life.

I had an opportunity to get a tour of the sensory room, while the physical therapist demonstrated how the equipment that UNICEF provided is used and impacts the children’s learning. Watching the children having to work on things as essential as balance, coordination and how to calm themselves down, gives you a greater experience of the challenges they face. They just need a secure and enabling space like this to develop and thrive.

What's UNICEF doing?

Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy is a model mixed ability infant school and screening site, made possible by the Rockhouse Foundation with support from UNICEF Jamaica. UNICEF provided adaptive teaching and learning material for the school. In partnership with the Digicel Foundation and the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD), UNICEF has launched the I Am Able media campaign about children with disabilities

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