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Spark of brilliance
A very exciting new resource has been designed and created by four very passionate and dedicated Federation University (Ballarat) students in their final year of study before becoming school teachers.
Hailey Vassallo, Barb Brokenshire, John Dallimore and Terrie White took part in a program called Team Enterprise, in which they were required to work with an organisation to produce a resource that will help that organisation.
What a resource they created! The book is a downloadable, personalised social story resource which teachers can individualise for students with autism and other special needs, to help learn about emergency evacuation at school.
The acronym SPARK stands for supporting people with autism resources kit. It can be printed using the school photocopier or as a hardcover book, available through most printing organisations. This will soon be provided free of charge for teachers to download from a link in our teacher resources area on the CFA website.
There is a list of photographs that are required for the school to take, of the student in different scenarios, which then are included in the book to personalise it. The student and teacher's names are able to be inserted into the book, with the rest of the static messaging, making it truly individualised.
Gordon Fire Brigade member Diane Lawson was contacted by the group asking her to advise them on their project. As a Fire Safe Kids presenter and the parent of a child with autism, she was excited to be able to participate. She has had a lot of experience with using the Boardmaker system (which has been used as the platform of this project), with picture communication symbols to assist in making visual learning aids for children and adults. This is a worldwide program used across all disability services.
Dawn Hartog, Program Design Coordinator for school-based programs and projects in CFA Headquarters, was also invited to be the content expert for the project, to ensure it aligned to CFA messages.
“This was a truly rewarding project to be invited to be part of. It has such huge potential, and begins to address a space that we have needed to get into for a long time. Well done to the student project team at Federation University, and well done to Diane for being such an inspirational mentor to the group. It is truly something to be proud of.”
Project member John said, “Working with CFA was a positive experience for us all. It’s great to be able to be part of something that will help children with disabilities, deal with the difficulties they find in a school evacuation.”
The idea for the resource came to life after one of Hailey’s professional education placements involved a child with autism. The child struggled with the major changes involved in a lock down procedure at his school, especially without notice, to the point it caused major discomfort and breakdown. She looked for any existing resources available but there was nothing.
The project team brainstormed a range of possible resources, and decided to focus on a personalised book using the students’ images. This can be used to inform the student of what is to be expected during an evacuation; and modelling the behaviours and actions the student needs to take prior to the drill being practiced. This becomes important particularly if a real situation occurs, to that the student is comfortable with the process.
Project member Terri said, “It was an immensely rewarding experience to be part of a creation of a product that has the potential to provide real life support to numerous children.”
The project was complete in only 10 weeks in its entirety; from planning and consultation with the organisation, design and production of the resource, testing the resource with a student and finally presenting the final resource at an exhibition held by the University at The Mining Exchange in Ballarat on 20 May 2015.
Project member Barb said, “The experience has been fantastic; working with a group of like-minded people who all had the same goal of helping children was a very rewarding experience.”
Feedback received to date has all been positive. From the school invovled, to Jacks family (child involved in testing the product). They all think it will be of great benefit to Jack and children with the need for such a resource. The resource has been shown to a group of primary school principals in the area, who all showed enthusiasm at introducing it for different students that would benefit from the resource.
Feedback has also been received from lecturers and the Dean of the University of a very positive nature. When asked about the project, Hailey said, “This assignment is one that we will never forget; it has been extremely rewarding to be able to create such a great resource that will help so many children.”
CFA is looking forward to implementing this resource, to enable all children in Victoria who need it, to be able to have individualised help and safely evacuate in case of emergency.