After an initial reluctance, students at Eileen O’Connor Catholic College Lewisham have embraced their fortnightly CaSPA dance sessions with gusto!
The half-hourly lessons which have been running at the school since Term 1, are part of CaSPA’s* performing arts program for students with diverse needs, which aims to have a positive impact on learning and social and emotional wellbeing.
For the 21 students at Eileen O’Connor Catholic College*, who have moderate intellectual disabilities and other complex learning needs, other benefits have been developing their coordination, creativity and imagination.
Gail Story, Curriculum Coordinator and Religious Education Coordinator at the College, said the students are always saying, ‘Is it dance today?’
“The classes are so well set up by Gin Ferris and Chris Gillet, who are specialists at teaching dance to students with special needs, so it’s great to have the professionals in.”
Ms Story said it was good for the students, who range in age from 12 to 15, to have a different outlet from the academic program and some were really talented.
Over the past three terms, the students have been learning a range of moves from up and down, clockwise and anti-clockwise, telling the time and making shapes with their bodies, standing like warriors, striking ‘Elvis’ poses, being dramatic and telling a story with their bodies.
…developing their coordination, creativity and imagination
“It’s all about brain to body connection and through music they can make those connections a lot quicker,” said dance teacher Gin Ferris.
“It’s also about having an awareness of space and not running into each other, following instructions, building up everyone’s comfortable zone, gross motor skills, social skills and having fun.”
Eileen O’Connor teacher Natalie Amy, said since the first week, the students have all come out of their shells.
“It’s a good movement break for them. They love the music and it brings a level of imagination to the week. There’s also a huge sense of enjoyment as there’s no right or wrong.”
“It’s all about brain to body connection and through music they can make those connections a lot quicker.
By the looks on the students’ faces and their enthusiasm in beating drums, improvising and moving to the beat, it’s one of the highlights of the school program.
Paddy Busch, 15, said he feels great when he dances.
His classmate Reece Wallace-Midgley, who loves to introduce a hip-hop move, said he feels happy and excited when he takes part.
“It’s fantastic,” said Reece.
For their classmate, Archie Poulos, his favourite part is acting out the vigorous movement of beating the drums.
CaSPA Secondary Coordinator, Elizabeth Mullane, said the students’ transition from the first sessions has been fantastic.
“It’s in-body learning and physical learning with a freedom of self-expression and creativity that is very freeing.”
The 21 Eileen O’Connor students will be continuing their dance classes in Term 4 and rehearsing for an end of year performance for their parents and staff.
*CaSPA is the dynamic Performing Arts program of Sydney Catholic Schools, which in 2015 was awarded the Australian College of Educators (ACE), Inner Sydney Region ‘Team Leadership Award’. The award recognises the outstanding contribution to quality leadership as a team leader which improves the quality of teaching in Sydney Catholic schools.
*Eileen O’Connor Catholic College opened in 2016 to provide quality Catholic education for students with a moderate intellectual disability and other complex learning needs. Over the next five years, the College will expand to K-12, incorporating an Early Intervention Centre and a Centre of Excellence for Inclusive Education. It will also be the centre of a network of satellite support classes attached to selected Sydney Catholic primary and secondary schools.