Stepping out to build social skills

Children getting their arms painted yesterday at the farmers' market in Loewen Road. Melbourne Specialist International School set up a booth there selling cards and bookmarks made by its students to raise funds to build a covered walkway between the
Children getting their arms painted yesterday at the farmers' market in Loewen Road. Melbourne Specialist International School set up a booth there selling cards and bookmarks made by its students to raise funds to build a covered walkway between the school and a gym.PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Special needs students set up booth to raise funds for school

Learning how to bake cupcakes and making craft items may seem like simple tasks but for a group of special needs students, the activities give them the chance to step outside and build their confidence.

Yesterday students from the Melbourne Specialist International School (MSIS) set up a booth at the farmers' market in Loewen Road to sell their handmade cards and bookmarks to raise funds for their school.

It was part of a wider school programme that aims to provide the students with vocational skills.

Students aged 14 to 18 years old spend about six hours each week at The Pantry Cafe just opposite their school learning how to bake cakes, package products and even wait at tables.

"We want to bring them out of their shell and get them out into the community," said MSIS principal Daryl Duane Van Hale.

BOOSTING CONFIDENCE

We want to bring them out of their shell and get them out into the community. Academics are important but there's more to life than just that.

MR DARYL DUANE VAN HALE, principal of MSIS, on helping the students to develop life and social skills through baking and handicraft.

"Academics are important but there's more to life than just that."

The school opened in November 2014 and caters to students aged three to 18 years with a range of special needs because of autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

Younger students - those aged six to 14 years - visit the cafe each week to build their social skills, by learning how to order food and pay for their meals, for instance.

During school hours, they learn simple tasks in the kitchen, such as how to use a microwave oven safely.

Ultimately, the aim is for the students to integrate into society and find a job once they graduate.

MSIS founding director Jayne Nadarajoo said: "We often don't see enough of them in society, but I think it's important that this changes. It's about building a society that is more inclusive."

Around 800 people visited the market yesterday.

Students and parents helped out at the booth to raise funds to build a covered walkway between MSIS and a nearby school gym.

Mr Andrew Simpson - who was making hot dogs at the market - said his 11-year-old son, Tomi, who has cerebral palsy, has benefited from the school's programme since the family moved to Singapore from Australia about a year ago.

"My boy doesn't function as quickly as others but if he can learn to (whisk) an egg or put something in the oven, there's this pride that comes from him," said the 46-year- old regional director of a non-profit organisation.

Fifteen-year-old Sofie Verniers, who has global developmental delay, learnt how to bake cupcakes and scones at the cafe.

Her mother, Mrs Lies Verniers, a 44-year-old therapist, said the lessons have helped to build her daughter's self-esteem and confidence. She said: "It's great that she gets to learn a new skill. It gives her the thought, 'Hey, I'm achieving something'."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 12, 2016, with the headline 'Stepping out to build social skills'. Print Edition | Subscribe