Wiyanga is a centre for learning embracing diversity and offering inclusion for students with High Support Needs
St Patrick’s Marist College is home to ‘Wiyanga’, a purpose-built facility that offers students with High Support Needs an alternate platform for learning and inclusion in Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta system of schools. The newly completed learning space is open to students from all over the Diocese who have a diagnosis of moderate intellectual disability as a primary disability and low adaptive functioning. At full capacity, Wiyanga can cater for 30 students.
The state of the art learning spaces are designed around the needs of the students and their curriculum, offering accessibility for those with physical disabilities and flexibility that allows teachers to tailor the spaces and furniture to each individual student’s learning preferences.
The focus of the centre is on empowering students and maintaining their dignity. Everyone who works in the centre recognises that these students are first and foremost, teenagers, and this is reflected in both the physical design of the space and the approach to learning. Wiyanga emphasises the ability of each student rather than focusing on their disability. The aim of the centre is to give its students the skills and experiences they require to make positive life choices and to help each student reach their full potential and individual level of independence.
Personalised Learning Plans
Every student has a specially designed learning plan that is created in consultation with parents or carers, setting specific goals for the student and addressing any barriers or challenges they may be experiencing.
At Wiyanga, we focus on the Functional Academics, or Life Skills, explicitly teaching the students about how to access and participate in their world. The centre is equipped with a full laundry and kitchen that is modelled on a home kitchen so that students learn how to cook, clean up after themselves and maintain the basic aspects of a home. The daily routine of students is broken into three main sections:
- Morning - Literacy and Numeracy learning galleries
- Middle of the day - Community Access and Participation
- End of the school day - Reflection and preparation for the next school day.
Alternative Learning Environments and Tools
Students of Wiyanga have access to a wide variety of spaces and facilities that serve to enhance their learning while respecting the different needs of each student. There are collaborative learning spaces where students work together, choosing the physical set up that best suits them from a range of table and seating options. Then there are breakout rooms used as time out zones and intervention rooms, used by students who make the choice themselves to be away from others for a period of time.
Large screens in all learning spaces allow students to easily share work with a 1 to 1 device ratio. Technology in the centre is viewed as a tool, but just one of many. An X Box in a shared zone provides opportunities for students to develop their social skills such as communication and turn taking, in addition to gross motor skills.
Students have access to a large and vibrant outdoor learning area that more closely resembles a café than a playground. Complete with kitchen garden and water feature, the space also boasts a trampoline mat. Students are welcome to come and go in this space as they need to, with access to the water and trampoline often serving a therapeutic purpose for students.
Access to Mainstream
Wiyanga does not operate in isolation from the college and strives to provide opportunities for students to have access to mainstream schooling where appropriate. The outdoor learning area has a gate leading to the college and during breaks students from the college come and share the facilities in small supervised numbers, encouraging friendships to spring up and widening the social circle of students attending the centre.
Centre staff are constantly assessing situations where students can participate in the mainstream in ways such as but not limited to:
- Practical lessons for subject areas such as food technology and Art
- Home room
- Formation Days
- Excursions and incursions
Safety and Supervision
Students are guaranteed a safe and secure environment at Wiyanga, with constant supervision and a focus on safety. This extends to educating students on their personal safety using the So Safe program centring on social skills, relationships and the concept of consent.
Pathways and Post School Options
Staff recognise the need for all students to have a plan for the future and Wiyanga works in partnership with the CEDP Post School Options team and other appropriate staff to ensure students have established post school pathways and identified achievable goals.