Thumbs up Academy, a very special school

Philosophy

The Thumbs up Academy is a concept which can prove that integration of children with diverse conditions can be done right.
Integration / inclusion is always seen as a benefit for the child that has special needs. It is normally seen as charity, not as a chance to rethink and improve the regular educational system.
The thumbs up academy will start small and thus will only focus on a few lucky children. However, through its existence we want to give impulses for the educational system as a whole.
The question is, why should parents of a child without special needs choose to send their loved one to a “very special school”?
We won’t be able to convince a parent right from the beginning that it could be a benefit for the non-disabled child to learn and live together with special needs children. Parents who had no contact with special needs children will always see the disadvantages first, such as:
1. My child won’t learn as much
2. The teachers will focus more on the child with special needs
3. People will believe that my child has a special need as well.
And this is exactly the point where we come in: In our opinion every child has a special need. Some need longer to learn how to read, others might have difficulties to calculate numbers, again others have problems in learning foreign languages or are not very sportive. Some cannot see, others not hear and a few might not be able to walk at all.
Disability is in all of us. But the body is a beautiful construction. While one sense, one ability, one body part might not function at all or only in a limited way, other senses, abilities and body parts specialism. A child that has problems in math, might be extremely quick in learning a foreign language. A child that cannot see, might be able to memorise much easier than anyone else.
In our very special school we want to focus on the special potentials of each and every child and we want to offer assistance in compensating the needs.

Curriculum

Thumbs up Academy will start with the first grate and will build up with each year.
A child will only be eager to learn if it feels it is relevant. Therefore we will assess the child’s dreams, passions, abilities and needs before we plan for it’s education.
The education will be tailored to each individual. We will have general classes in reading, writing and communication, but most of the other classes will be special subjects.

General classes

General classes are limited to reading, writing, mathematics and communication. These classes will divert from regular teaching modules in the following way:
A) Reading and writing
All children, sighted or visually impaired, will begin their reading and writing with the basic principals of Braille.
Braille is a very logical writing system. It contains only 6 dots, which combined, resemble all letters of the latin or many other alphabets.
From a integrative kindergarten of blind and sighted children in Tibet, we learned that children, blind and sighted, are able to understand the concept of reading and writing much faster when they are not distracted by the various concepts that normally play a role of the reading and writing process and confuse many children:
Normally a sighted child needs to learn how to recognize a letter visually,
How to draw a letter with the hand, (hand-brain-coordination)
how to pronounce a single latter
and how to pronounce a combination of letters.
The child needs to understand that letters combined have an actual meaning, and that words combined build a sentence.

All these various concepts can lead to slowing down the learning process.
While learning the simple concept of Braille first, the child will be able to mainly focus on pronunciation and meaning and it will benefit from a quick pleasure to be able to read and write texts fluently. In a later stage, sighted children will be trained in handwriting and reading of regular script and blind children will learn the contracted version of Braille, in order to read and write faster.

B) Mathematics
While many children are board by mathematics but fascinated by the logic and the game principals of programming, math and computer programming will be combined in a course for all children. Blind children will work with a speech synthesiser.

C) Communication
All children, will be trained in sign language. This will help the children in various ways:
A child will be able to express him/herself with the whole body,
Hearing children will be able to communicate with hearing impaired.
Even blind children will learn sign language and thus become much more expressive.
Hearing impaired children will mainly focus on sign language as their means of communication but will be trained in lip reading as well.

Special classes

Special classes are open for all children who feel a need of specialisation. Each subject will have assistance classes for those who need special help, and specialisation classes for those who are passionate about a certain subject.
A child needs to choose one or two subjects of each department.
These classes are sorted into 5 major departments:
A) Department of media (1)
– Video and photography
– Radio and audio
– Graphic design

B) Department of science (1)
– Biology,
– Chemistry,
– physics,
– geography

C) Department of art (1)
– Music (instrumental and vocal)
– Sculpture
– painting and drawing
– Theatre and speech

D) Department of Sports (1)
– swimming
– climbing
– Athletics
– Wheel chair sprint
– Showdown (table tennis without sight)

E) Department of Languages (2)
– Sign language
– Braille (script)
– English
– Luo
– Luganda
– French

Boarding facility

The school is build like a village, which is situated right in nature. Classrooms are in the open, just with thatched roofs. The dining hall is a simple Bamboo structure.
All boarded children live with one houseparent in small living groups of 4 or 5 student. the hut will contain:
2 Simple bedrooms for hosting for to 5 children,
1 bedroom for the house parent,
1 kitchen
1 eating space
and one bathroom.
Each hut is surrounded by a garden and each hut has one pet: a pig, a cow, a dog, chickens, ducks, a cat, fish, a bee hives etc.
Children will learn from early age onward to:
• cook,
• work in the garden
• wash and clean
• take care of animals
• do shopping
• calculate budgets (each hut will receive a certain budget per month that has to be accounted for)

Organisation

The school will be run and organised by the direct beneficiaries of Thumbs up – Uganda, the parents of children that are blind, hearing impaired or physically impaired. Parents will function as teachers, house parents, board members, gardeners and cooks. Since it is a community driven school, it will be cost efficient and sustainable.
Due to the fact that it is an inclusive school, Thumbs up welcomes non-disabled sisters and brothers and children from the nearby community.