Emerald North State School
A stunning transformation has taken place in a Central Queensland school where special needs students are excelling “exponentially” because of this courageous and exceptional school leader.
When Sunanda Bradbury started at Emerald North State School, a high number of students were taught in a “Special Education Unit” during key learning times and would join their mainstream classrooms for a small number of sessions throughout the week.
There were concerns within the school community that the learning of special needs students would be limited in a mainstream classroom and that special needs students would disrupt their peers.
Over three years Mrs Bradbury dispelled the concerns and now most students are in mainstream classes most of the time.
The change at the school has been extraordinary, and Mrs Bradbury has been named the winner of this year’s Queensland College of Teachers (QCT) Excellent Leadership in Teaching and Learning Award as a result.
Her work has also been credited with positively changing the public perception in Emerald about the level of participation high-needs students can achieve.
Mrs Bradbury said it was a gradual change, which began with asking questions like: “Why are these students withdrawn? What are the reasons they’re not going to their classes very often?”
She started to provide students with opportunities for inclusion in their mainstream classrooms during key learning times, with the support of Special Education Program (SEP) case managers, SEP teacher aides and curricular support. As this progressed, some students demonstrated they could work independently in their mainstream classrooms if the right routines and teaching strategies were in place.
“The socialisation of it is really important,” Mrs Bradbury said of inclusion. “If they (special needs students) are all together, all the time, with the same kids, in the same room, they may not learn anything new socially. But when they go into the classroom, they are seeing 20 other kids taking out their pencils and writing in their books – they’re making friendships.”
Three years on, the Special Education Unit no longer exists and in its place is a Diverse Learning Centre. There’s a sensory room and a desensory room, where students can go if they have a stimulus overload or need to divert their thinking.
Most importantly, there’s a new perception about students with disabilities and what they can achieve. And special needs students are experiencing opportunities they didn’t have before.
QCT Director John Ryan thanked Mrs Bradbury for the extraordinary difference she had made not only to her students, but also to her school and the local community.