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World Down Syndrome Day & Building Bridges for Students with Disability

Every year on March 21, people all around the world celebrate the lives and achievements of people with Down Syndrome. About one in every 1,100 babies are born with Down Syndrome in Australia each year. It is the world’s most common chromosomal disorder and cause of intellectual disability. Supportive families and communities play a big role in helping people with Down syndrome lead happy and fulfilling lives.
Member organisation Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH) is proud to provide support and services to help people with Down syndrome achieve their goals. When Christiaan’s parents enrolled him into VMCH’s specialist school, St Paul’s College their goal was for him to eventually attend a mainstream school.
Mum and dad, Elzabeth and Johan, are proud to say that their bright and bubbly 7-year-old who has Down syndrome started grade one this year full-time at a mainstream school. They credit St Paul’s College and its innovative Bridging Program for helping them achieve this dream.
“It was a fantastic program that managed to support us to do that. We’re very, very happy with the whole Bridging Program and our involvement in that,” Elzabeth said.
The Bridging Program supports students during their first year of school to gain the skills and confidence to eventually attend a mainstream school or remain at St Paul’s College.
 “The way that the Bridging Program supported Chrissi and the mainstream school was just unique and different to how other schools do it,” Elzabeth said.
 “I think that’s the reason for his success now. I think they do it so well, and by doing it so well it gave Donvale Primary School (Christiaan’s school) the confidence of having Chrissi there fulltime … It helped them a lot.”
Bridging Program teacher, Gillian Bryan, says its students benefit from a smaller class setting, a play-based teaching approach and the program covers the Victorian Curriculum with modifications where necessary.
 “It’s very much the same structure of a prep grade. We make reasonable adjustments to the individual children’s requirements,” she said.
Gillian and her team regularly visit the students’ mainstream school of choice to support the transition. This can include everything from providing practical resources, sharing their expertise with teachers at the mainstream school and offering tips to adjust the curriculum where needed.

By the end of the school year, the Bridging Program teachers help the parents consider their options for the next year. Gillian said she loved seeing the changes in students as the year progressed.
 “These children continue to surprise me every day,” she said.
 “Give them a challenge, encourage them and teach them to be confident and they will rise to the occasion and they will hit those goals and often exceed them.”
With the school year well and truly underway, Christiaan’s dad says it is all going well. “Every time we come to pick up Chrissi it is all positive. Teachers say he is doing well,” Johan said. “He had his school performance in front of the whole school … and he danced with the rest of the class, he was a little out of sync, but he wasn’t the only one.”
Picture courtesy VMCH: Christiaan (second from left) is pictured with some of his friends at St Paul’s College, last year.

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