File photo: Gauteng gears itself to open a new school with specialised programmes.

Johannesburg - There is hope for children with learning difficulties as Gauteng gears itself to open a new school with specialised programmes, expert occupational therapists and a therapeutic environment.

The Bridge, an assisted learning school which will open in January, targets children that are not necessarily catered for in either mainstream or special needs schools. The school will be based in Beverley, Lonehill, and will cater for pupils from Grade 0 to 7 who have challenges such as attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mild autism and anxiety.

“There is a tremendous need for a school focused on assisting pupils to bridge the gap between where they find themselves, and mainstream schools. Ultimately, the goal is to help each pupil reach their full potential and develop strategies that will enable them to return to a mainstream classroom confidently and empowered,” said principal Retha van Niekerk.

She added there was a distinction between remedial schools, of which there are a number of providers in the country, and assisted-learning schools which are in extremely short supply despite the tremendous need.

“Because of our small classes which are capped at 12 pupils, an individualised learning approach, and therapeutic programmes, we are able to assist learners who are cognitively on par or ahead of their peers, to address whatever the challenge is that has kept them from succeeding in mainstream schools."

She said some suffered gaps between verbal and non-verbal communication skills where slow processing and auditory discrimination gaps have left them unable to keep up in mainstream environments. Other children were disrupted by the impact of serious illness or trauma. Van Niekerk said in other pupils it was the combination of all these factors.

“Assisted learning schools that tackle these challenges holistically have significant impact,” Van Niekerk adds.

The Bridge will provide learning, therapeutic and support interventions to develop skills and self-esteem.

“In addition to highly qualified and experienced teachers, the school will also employ a team of occupational therapists, speech therapists, and an neuro-developmental physiotherapist.

The school will also focus on cultural programmes and extra-murals such as public speaking, arts and crafts, karate, chess, hockey, soccer, netball and swimming.

“As our aim is for most of our children to return to mainstream schools, and because holistic development supports scholastic progress, we want to ensure that the extramural activities that they would have participated in at a mainstream school are provided, said Van Niekerk.

Parents are invited to visit the school to have their children’s needs assessed before applying.

“In our experience, it is often at the end of the first or second term in a new grade that teachers and parents conclude that a mainstream school may not currently be meeting the needs of the child. We will enrol children when the need arises as further delays could damage the confidence of the child and cause further challenges,” said Van Niekerk.

The Star