THE FOUNDATION AND DEVELOPMENT OF DOROTHEA SPECIAL SCHOOL
In 1979, Prof. JJ du Preez and Miss. Vlokkie du Toit in collaboration with the Faculty of Education, at the University of Stellenbosch identified the need to train severely handicapped children, especially those in disadvantaged areas. The purpose of this project was to ensure the maximum development of the child in order for them to function independently in their communities. As uneducated as the children are they are considered trainable and exempt from normal school duty. Children with an IQ between 30 - 55 (tested by a school psychologist) fell into this category.
A group consisting of 27 children managed by student volunteers were brought together on 1 April 1981. During 1984 a day school was started which has been subsidized by the government ever since April 1985. The day school started with two teachers, and 13 children were enrolled as students. The NG Kerk's premises were used as the training centre. The pupils' parents actively participated in the training program and a small bus was purchased to transport pupils to and from the centre. The pupils were from Cloetesville, Idasvallei, Kraaifontein, Pniel and surrounding areas.
The enrolment increased to 46 and there was a waiting list of at least 40 pupils. Thus a need arose for a well-equipped building that housed a minimum of 120 pupils. The state offered to contribute 95% of the cost for the construction of the building. The community had to raise the remaining funds (R162 000) from June 1989. It was a tremendous amount to raise, but the governing body tackled the challenge with pride. In March 1987, the fund-raising by staff, parents and the local business sector began, and two years later R65 000 was raised.
By 1989 the new building was officially in use. The staff currently consists of 42 members of teachers, including paramedics - (nurses and occupational therapists) and non teaching staff (drivers, kitchen staff and caretakers). Currently there are about 265 students enrolled in the centre. Learners come from Cloetesville, Idasvallei, Kylemore, Pniel, Eesterivier, Blackheath, Vlottenburg, Kraaifontein Northpine and surrounding farms in the different areas.
The occupational therapist deal with the waiting list for prospective pupils and there are many children who must be tested for possible placement. References received from the development clinics as local clinics, Tygerberg and Rookruis Hospitals. Some of the pupils are also referred from mainstream schools. A pre-school clinic presented by the therapists on Wednesday, was provided to parents where children at pre-school level attain guidance and help. A state standard also provides services to children of Dorothea Special School. The nurse handles various matters such as prescribing medication, contraception, general health of pupils, help with arranging grants and other social problems. Home visits are also done by teachers and paramedical staff on a regular basis. Service training sessions for staff are also offered, and staff are encouraged to regularly go for courses in order to broaden their knowledge.
A severely mentally handicapped children of different ethology occurs. The reason of mental disabilities among children may be due to genetic disorders like Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome and other birth injuries, oxygen and resulting disability (fetal alcohol syndrome), abuse and malnutrition, accidents etc.
Students are divided into classes according to their level of development. Programs presented in the classes are planned according to pupils' abilities. Considerable attention is focused on the following areas: grooming, speech development, motor development, social skills, environment and nature, work skills in the protective environment, housekeeping skills, culture and sports development.
Stronger pupils in the workshop are also placed in institutions like for example, supermarkets, garages, old age homes, etc. where they perform simple tasks under supervision. When students leave the centre at age 21, some are placed at a protected workshop setting (USKOR) if their application is successful. An attempt is made to make pupils as self-sufficient as possible, and thus to allow them to function independently in the community.
Pupils are also taken on educational trips to practice their skills and apply and extend their sphere of life. A lot is already done at sports level for the pupils. Boland Sports and Culture Union was established for schools for severely handicapped pupils and also affiliated at various sports organizations. Sport codes which competed at provincial and national level include athletics, football, netball and cricket, and there are also plans to further develop swimming as a sport. Pupils are exposed to many opportunities in the area. Some students have also performed at international level.
Staff are very dedicated and do their best to stimulate and develop students so that they perform to the best of their abilities. It takes a lot of love, patience and sacrifice to work with these special children, but we consider it a privilege to make their lives more meaningful and enjoyable so that they can reach their maximum potential and function as self-sufficiently as possible.