Much like its sister organizations, SKILD Center for Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences was launched in March 2011 in a step of faith in response to the perceived need. It was a child rights issue and we had to respond. The step of faith was not ours alone, but also that of the handful of friends and partners that came alongside us at the time, including the Consortium for Global Education (CGE) led by its President Dr. Carolyn Bishop that continues to give us access to professional expertise in the fields of education and special needs education. Like us, they saw the potential impact of what can be achieved through a center that brings together different qualified specialists in one place that together, and with the help of appropriate and up-to-date tools, they can equip individuals with learning differences with the skills needed to pursue their education.
Little did we know then, or expect, the scope and pace with which SKILD will grow, expanding from center-based individualized services and awareness raising seminars and campaigns to offering special needs services in private and public schools, publishing much needed educational material in the area of special needs… Our journey has not been without challenges, yet it’s been an exciting one as the step of faith was followed by others oriented towards inclusive educational communities in Lebanon; communities that accept those who are different, and where every child will attain their right to education.
We are grateful to God for the multi-track avenues that SKILD is involved in today. And we’re also thankful to you, our SKILD friends and partners, for capturing the vision and for joining hands with us that we may today celebrate together the ripple effects of our investments over the past few years in the children themselves, as well as in the trained educators. Not forgetting the impact of the National Day for Students with Learning Difficulties (April 22nd) that we first launched in April 2013 in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, and the British Council Lebanon, and which this year will be preceded by two highly appealing awareness raising activities:
· A Youth Marathon on April 10th, where 1000 young men and women will run for children with learning difficulties, and
· A full day seminar for 10th-graders on April 16th that will bring together students from 12 Lebanese schools from different parts of the country to learn and discuss together “Social Inclusion of Special Needs Students is both a right and an obligation”. The seminar will include awareness sessions by Dr. Dennis Eastman, Director of Teacher Education at Biola University, and by Mr. George Khabbaz, a Lebanese celebrity— actor, writer, playwright, comedian, producer, and theatre professor.
These will be followed during the National Day week with training workshops led by
· Dr. David Finn, Associate Professor of Special Education, and CEO of the Children’s Learning Center at Samford University
· Dr. Tonia Crane, Associate Professor of Education at the Missouri Baptist University
Moreover, preparations for the upcoming National Day event are being accompanied by an active social media campaign that involves, Lebanese faith and community leaders and activists as well as celebrities that are themselves eager to promote the cause of special needs children throughout Lebanon and beyond. We invite you to like our SKILD and LSESD Facebook pages, to capture the powerful messages that are being shared by these people of influence.
What’s next on SKILD’s agenda?
The responsibility before us today is even greater than before. There is no turning back, and there is so much yet to be done. Accordingly, SKILD is currently working on new potential avenues including:
· Providing appropriate support to Syrian refugee children in Lebanon who are wrestling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD];
· Partnering with NGOs and other stakeholders with the rights of special needs students in mind;
· A collaboration between CGE, Haigazian University, and SKILD for a summer course focused on Applied Behavioral Analysis, and which is offered in a flexible format – a combination of residency and distance learning;
· Offering training in Lebanon in partnership with Neuhaus Education Center. Already 10 of SKILD’s specialists are enrolled in training programs with Neuhaus as part of their ongoing learning development;
· Establishing a multi-sensory room where children with moderate to severe learning difficulties can be supported.
Alongside, we will continue to promote inclusion in public schools in Lebanon. We’ve already had assessments in several schools followed by individualized interventions for those children that have been identified as being at social, emotional, and/or academic risk. We will also continue to raise awareness and invite other stakeholders to join efforts with us that we may together bring about a transformation in behavioral patterns into ones that appreciate difference and encourage inclusion.
One challenge we face is that SKILD Center has already outgrown its space at the ground floor of the LSESD office building which is why we have added a new floor that will also enable SKILD to conduct trainings for public school teachers. As you can see from the picture (right), the external construction work is now almost completed. We just need to finish the interior work so that SKILD can have its much needed additional space. Your prayers and support are needed.
With God’s grace, the hard work of the highly professional SKILD team, the perseverance of both children and parents, and your invaluable prayers and support, we were able to reach around 18,000 children and educators during the past five years. More is yet to be done, with your prayers and support.
Thank you for your partnership!