I am running the 1st Navy Vizag Running And Living Half Marathon for Sankalp

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It all began nearly 25 years ago when a special school was set up within the walls of Nausena Baugh on 26th Jan 1990. At its helm was Mrs Jugnu Ravinder Singh, a very determined lady with a view to educate the “differently abled” children within our Armed Forces. Initially located adjacent to NCS (Secondary), it was a small set up and had only three students on its rolls. With the persistence of Mrs Jugnu Ravinder Singh, a few more trickled in and soon the trickle became a flood, as parents realized the value of educating their Special Needs children. The strength of the school today is 30 students, which is 10 times the strength 25 years ago. This was possible due to the growing awareness about Special Needs in our Society. Today, Sankalp (V) has its own building, which is spacious, yet cozy; a warm place to be in and yet a very professional environment. Our students look forward to coming to school, a fact that speaks volumes about the rapport they share with their teachers. The stated aim of Sankalp is “to reach out to the Special children, assess the needs of each individual case with the help of doctors and specially trained staff and therapists, conduct educational and vocational training programs and offer parental counseling, so that every effort is made to ensure that the special child is able to merge with society and is capable of earning a living, without the feeling of guilt of being a burden on others.” In other words, specially trained and very dedicated staff looks into the physical, socio-emotional and educational needs of each and every student and strive to make the students self-sufficient and contributing members of society who are well-adjusted and well-integrated into mainstream society. We at Sankalp are often told by people that: “It takes a special kind of person to care for a child with special needs.”But we all believe that: “A child with Special Needs will inspire you to be a special kind of person.” The population at Sankalp falls within the category of primarily Mental Retardation with associated conditions like Autism, Cerebral palsy, Rett’s Syndrome, Down’s syndrome, ADHD, etc. The grouping of the students is done in keeping with the guidelines laid down by the National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped (NIMH),Secunderabad, the foremost authority on Mental Retardation in India. The grouping is done while bearing in mind the child’s age, IQ and ability levels. The teacher- student ratio is 1:4, with each class having in addition to the Special Educator, one Assistant Teacher and one Helper. To walk you through the corridors of Sankalp, let us peep into the various classrooms… We begin our tour with the Care Group – so named as they need the maximum care. They are children with very low IQ, who may or may not have even the basic skills of toilet training, eating skills and grooming. The Special Educator, thus, has to teach them all this. One look at the student-teacher interaction tells us that they have evolved into a kind of family unit and the students search for their teacher like babies look for their mothers! The next level is the Pre-Primary level, where the children in the age group of 4-7 years, with IQs in the Mild- Moderate Retardation categories. The focus here is on their pre-writing, pre-reading and pre-Math concepts. They are taught communication skills, toileting and their eating skills are refined. Emphasis is laid on fine motor skills, attention span, etc. This is perhaps the group where the slightest progress is most apparent, given the children’s young ages and relatively near-normal ability levels. The Primary-Secondary level comes next with older students with Moderate levels of Mental Retardation. They are taught Functional Academics here ie the academic skills required to lead a successful life like sight reading, reading signs and symbols, calculator usage, etc. The Special Educator has to plan her program in accordance with the varying levels in the class. The Pre-Vocational group has the oldest students, who are taught skills that may help them in earning a living. The teacher plans each child’s goals in conference with the parents. For instance, when one of the parents indicated that he would be setting up a grocery store post-retirement and that he would like his son to assist him, the teacher decided to teach the boy how to use a weighing scales and also identify different types of dals, etc. The children are also taught to cook simple meals like khichdi, dal-roti, sandwiches, etc. so that they can help at home. The Pre-Voc students are also taught how to use a computer for data entry. One of our students helps in the NWWA library with stamping, sorting and arranging books. Along with the Educational Needs, our students also require help in the areas of mobility, posture, balance, attention span, etc. These are dealt with in the Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy wings. We have very able therapists who work in tandem with the teachers and help these children. An itinerant Speech Therapist also visits the school and deals with the students’ articulation problems. Speech as we know is our way of communicating with the world. However, since many of our students are largely non-verbal, we have to use Alternative Communication techniques like Communication Boards, etc. in order to give them a means of expressing themselves. Special Education is a multi-disciplinary approach, with the doctors at INHS Kalyani assessing the children initially, and then sending the child to the psychologist, who assesses the child’s IQ and other psychometric parameters. Then the child comes to Sankalp, where he/she is assessed by the Therapists and Special Educators. Thus when the Individualized Educational Program (IEP) for the child has to be drawn up, it is done with the consent and recommendation of all the agencies, including the parent. Our students are multi-faceted and very talented and motivated youngsters. Being under the aegis of NWWA and by extension the Indian Navy, they are given opportunities that many students in the mainstream cannot even dream of – participation in Painting Competitions, Dance training by Shiamak Davar’s Victory Arts Foundation, participation in the Navy Mela and even visits to Naval warships and aircraft, to name a few. This helps in the student being more well-rounded and better assimilated into the Naval fraternity. Our children go out into the world exuding confidence enough to believe that: “I am Special and one of a kind and unlike the others. In short, I am custom-made, limited edition and Unique!!” The unwritten motto of any Special School is a quote by George Evans: “Every student can learn – just not on the same day or in the same way”. In fact, the principle underlying all Special Education is: “If I can’t learn how you teach, then teach me how I learn”. The teachers and Helper Staff at Sankalp are a very driven and self-motivated lot. To highlight this point, it is pertinent to state that at least 4 of the Helper Staff and one of the Special Educators is from the “Commissioning Crew” of 1990! They have seen some of the students here grow up in front of their eyes! While working with Special Needs individuals is not an easy task, it is a very satisfying and highly rewarding one. And that perhaps is the “magic potion” that pushes the staff in such institutions to work especially hard with their students. The Principal, who steers this ship, is a very able and level-headed lady, who leads by example. On the NWWA side, there is a very cooperative Management headed by the President NWWA (ER). Sankalp is a wonderful place to work in and the cheerful attitude is not just evident, it is infectious! The students, teachers, therapists and Helper Staff, who follow the motto “Together we can”, are a testament to the grit and determination that manifests itself in every effort and achievement and slightest sign of progress. And the will to reach and keep greater heights is embodied in the very name – for Sankalp means determination!!

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