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New Center at BBS helps special needs children get SMART

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The opening of fantastic new facilities for children with learning differences at LSESD’s Beirut Baptist School (BBS) and the launch of an exciting new program for them has heralded a new chapter in the school’s commitment to inclusive education.

On 24 October 2018, BBS launched the SMART Program in collaboration with SKILD Center and Open Minds in an event on their campus sponsored by His Excellency Mr. Marwan Hamadeh, Minister of Education and Higher Education in the caretaker government.

The SMART Center is for all students with learning differences. It includes a sensory room and kitchen area, group counseling rooms, special education areas, a speech therapy room and a psychomotor therapy room. Overall, the Center has been designed to meet the characteristics of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (to enhance their association and perception difficulties), epilepsy, Down Syndrome, Dyslexia, attention deficit, ADHD and other behavioral difficulties. Its pastel colors give a soothing atmosphere for the children who can have tantrums when a place is crowded.

From the SMART Center, the school will have a specified and individualized program to support learners with special needs including Autism, Epilepsy, and Down Syndrome. The SMART Program entails two parts: the first is a self-contained program where the learners are taught only in the Center; the second is where learners who are less at-risk are included in regular academic classes with a shadow teacher. Special educators will also work with the students in the self-contained program to integrate them in extra-curricular activities in Grade 1 regular classes, when their cases allow that. Both groups will be supported by group therapy, speech therapy, and psychomotor therapy, as well as being helped to develop their communication and interactive skills.

Representing the Lebanese Government at the SMART Program’s launch was His Excellency Mr. Pierre Bou Assi, Minister of Social Affairs. “Learners with special needs are the bridge between us and humanity,” he said in his speech. “They are a source of pride and we should help them to achieve their full potential.”

Other speakers included the Secretary General of Catholic Schools, Father Boutros Azar who described the new SMART Program and Center as “a new hope in education.” Ms. Ghaida Rabbat, President of the Board of Open Minds, said that the organization was proud to be involved in the project and she wished that all schools in the region will follow the example of BBS in its approach to achieve “true academic inclusion.”

Ms. Alice Wazir, Principal of BBS, explained at the launch that inclusion is part of the school’s mission which has been shown through an active Special Education Department that has supported children with learning differences over the last 10 years. Its success has translated in the continuous growth of the department with 90 registered learners this year.

One of the highlights of the launch was hearing from learners and parents who have benefited from the help of BBS’s Special Education department. Mia, a girl with learning difficulties, had moved schools four times before she had reached fifth grade but did not receive good treatment until she started coming to BBS. “I saw treatment and support at BBS that I did not see elsewhere,” her father said. “BBS supports my child with full consciousness, kindness, and love.”

Jana is in Grade 12 and has been at BBS since kindergarten. In her speech she shared her struggles with attention deficit. “I used to copy wrong numbers and letters off the board,” she explained. “My teachers did not understand me, and I had trouble remembering what they told me. After assessments, I knew that I have an attention deficit. I was devastated, but thanks to the Special Education department, I am now full of motivation and self-confidence.” Students with special needs in Lebanon are exempted from state exams but Jana insisted on taking them. She passed her Brevet exams in Grade 9 and will be taking her Baccalaureate exams next summer. Jana wants to study special education after she graduates.

Maya has already graduated and is studying special education at Haigazian University. She came to BBS in Grade 5 and was diagnosed with dyslexia. Maya said in her speech that she felt like an outsider because she couldn’t read and write like her classmates. With the support of BBS, she graduated in 2017. Maya concluded her speech with the following advice; “Don’t give up on your dreams and keep thriving until you reach your goal.”

Please pray for the staff leading the new SMART Program and that more students with learning differences at BBS will fulfil their dreams and reach their goals through it.

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