Sunday, 22 May 2011

Eagles or Dockers?

You haven't been to an assembly until you have been to Cameron's school assemblies. I have never been to an assembly like them and I've sat through a few.

Let me set the scene. A large empty space in the middle of the school with eight classrooms and 4 bathrooms opening into it. This is the heart of the school - it's called the Blue Area. Before you ask, the floor is blue.

There is artwork hanging on the walls and chairs dotted about. At the front is a big TV screen and a computer set up beside it. On the other side of the TV is a table and above that is a big pin up board. The pin up board is for the Star of the Week. It is a very big deal to be Star of the Week.

Assembly is every Friday but there are some weeks that as a parent you stand there thinking - are we having assembly? - because nobody has moved a chair or stepped foot into the blue area and time is ticking. But of course this is not a mainstream school. The majority of the students arrive at school on buses and sometimes the buses are delayed. The students who are brought in by their parents are not always on time, stuff happens, and this is acceptable in our school. Everyone understands that it takes time and not every day is a good day for our students.

You know things are happening when the music starts. One teacher is the DJ and he sets up his music, turns on the disco lights and gets the disco started. All of a sudden you see movement as students appear out of their classrooms because they want to dance. Now, dance can be interpreted in so many ways and you need to interpret it rather loosely for this description. Some of the students like to spin around to the music, others start conga lines and collect staff as they wind through the school. Some partner up and sway or rock to the music, usually with a staff member. Some students just stand or sit and listen but they are enjoying the music, the lights and the atmosphere.

Cameron will stand and smile when the music starts, he loves music and loves to clap to music. He doesn't quite get the whole conga line concept but he gets roped in from time to time. He usually stands in the middle of all the action and socializes.

Whilst the disco is happening staff are bringing in chairs and pushing in wheelchairs, if the student isn't dancing. They are collecting aides for question time and comforters for the students who will find sitting through assembly difficult. The nurses start to find their students to medicate or feed and go about their duties as if unaware that they are in the middle of a disco. There is a buzz and everyone is smiling, students and staff. It's infectious, you cannot stand in that room and not feel happy.

Eventually the Principal will make a move and the music is stopped. The students move to their seats quickly and it's time to begin. Some week's assembly starts with The News on the TV. This is brilliant. A student is filmed introducing themselves and the date. Then we watch a montage of what has happened in the school that week, often with voice over's provided by the older, verbal students. Nobody is safe from the video camera in our school, I've been captured more than once and anything is news, be it a tree being cut down, a student returning to school after a long stay in hospital, a staff member getting married or students going for a community walk. Cameras are used all day long in our school.

This term, after the news, we are then having a class item. Today was Cameron's classes turn. I did feel sorry for his teacher because half the class called in sick. However the remaining three students all dressed up in very seventies inspired rock band outfits and showed the school how they could play instruments they had made in their classroom. Then they rocked out to a song with the shakers and elastic band guitar until everyone gave them a huge round of applause and they took a bow. Cameron forgot how to play his shaker, he decided clapping was more fun.

Then it is the big moment - Star of the Week. Every student is star of the week at least once every couple of years. When you are Star of the Week, your parents get homework. We fill out forms describing our child's life, likes, dislikes, family and friends, pets, favourite activities and foods, etc. You can get into it as little or as much as you like. We also provide photos for the pin up board.

When your child is Star of the Week most families will try to be at assembly if they can manage it and it is quite common to see brothers and sisters visit from other schools and grandparents and extended family as well. The Star of the Week has their moment of glory with their powerpoint presentation which they assisted with as much as they were able. The staff move the child to the computer and no matter how long it takes the Star of the Week moves the mouse and starts their powerpoint.

The powerpoints are always fantastic, put to music and filled with lots of photos and colourful graphics. Sometimes the staff get super creative. Cameron's last powerpoint was a Masterchef inspired creation with a cook off between Cameron and another student. You can not stand there and not beam from ear to ear whilst wiping away the tears of sheer joy.

The Star of the Week assists the Principal to hand our certificates, their job is to hand the recipient their certificate and shake their hand. This is a big challenge for some students - Cameron loves it and completes this task with an enormous smile as long as he doesn't decide to keep the certificate for himself or return it to the Principal.

Once certificates are completed, The Ten Pin Bowler of the week awarded or the Fisherman of the week awarded and Happy Birthday sung to those with birthdays - staff included. (They also receive certificates from time to time) it is time for question time.

Question time is when the school finds out about the Star of the Week, with the assistance of a family member. A microphone is taken around and the students ask the Star of the Week about themselves such as - Who is your bus driver? What is your favourite food? What number is your house? Do you have any pets? or Cameron's favourite - Do you go horse riding?

Now, you might be wondering how non verbal children can ask questions. Well, there are pre-recorded buttons that the teachers have prepared and the student pushes the button to hear the question - What is your favourite colour? Some students point to picture cards and the staff interpret their points into a sentence - Do you have any brothers or sisters? Some children, like Cameron, make a noise - Do you like McDonald's? But of course some students can talk and the one question which is asked at every assembly without fail is - Do you like Eagles or Dockers?

The room goes quiet and everyone awaits - the answer -  and a whoop of cheer goes up around the room mixed with disgruntled mumbling from the opposing teams supporters. Then the chosen teams anthem gets blasted for 30 seconds. It wouldn't be assembly without this question. Today it was Eagles and then it was Dockers - the Star of the Week were twins and they barracked for opposing teams - so today everyone got bragging rights and a Dockers poster was enthusiastically raced to the front by a student to be held aloft with pride.

Finally the footy tipping trophy is awarded to the winning room and then assembly is over for another week.

Throughout all of this the nurses continue to feed and medicate. Today a very distressed student arrived letting everyone know he wasn't happy to be at school and was quickly calmed and seated with his classmates. Some students were shown how to sit appropriately, act appropriately and stay calm. Photos were snapped for the school newsletter - The Star of the Week is always highlighted with a photo and a write up. And everyone had a jolly good time.

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