LITTLE ANGELS SCHOOL
Letterkenny, Co. Donegal
Little Angels School uses creative and comprehensively conscientious teaching techniques to serve students with moderate, severe and profound learning disabilities and students with autism. By using technology to creatively facilitate teaching, building an environment that encourages pupils to become as independent as possible and making children feel comfortable with therapy and a number of engaging activities, Little Angels School helps every student become “the best that they can be.” http://www.littleangelsschool.net/
Little Angels School’s large staff of teachers and special needs assistants provide a rich education to 98 students with moderate, severe and profound learning disabilities and autism in County Donegal. Students range in age from 3 to 18, and Little Angels addresses their special needs with compassionate teaching, innovative technological solutions, and programmes carefully designed for their unique circumstances.
The Biggest Idea
The school is built around what children can do, rather than what they cannot. For example, some of the pupils, although severely autistic, show great affinity for I.T. and are encouraged to develop these skills. The school is set up for students to navigate as independently as possible, and an enormous range of activities is available to them.
Life at Little Angels
Every morning, children at Little Angels School make their own way to their classrooms, remove their own coats and bags and take out their lunchboxes, as the school’s staff stand around the schoolyard as helpful guides. These tasks are major for the pupils, and it can take months and years of work to achieve them independently. This is just one of many of ways that students at Little Angels are encouraged to take agency in their education and within the school community.
In addition to numerous artistic and athletic activities (there is a robust drama programme and students have the opportunity to participate in the Special Olympics), students also get to involve themselves with many aspects of the school’s operation. For example, they can help with shopping for the school, produce assemblies, play a role in the “green schools” initiative or work in the garden. Senior students can get work experience with the “Bubble Car Wash” and cook for the entire school on special occasions (Irish Stew for St. Patrick’s Day, Lamb Stew at Easter, etc.).
To facilitate learning, Little Angels integrates a variety of technologies into the daily flow of the classroom. One school motto is “Technology makes things easier for us but for people with special needs it can make things possible,” and this is brought to life through the use of iPads, eye-gaze devices and Talking Tin or BIGmack communication devices, together with techniques like Picture Exchange Communcation System and Lámh signing, that help children communicate, as over 90% of students are non-verbal. Switch-accessible activities, motion-sensing Kinect technology, and other creative technological tools allow students to become active learners.
More generally, every aspect of the school is designed to make students feel comfortable, no matter what their individual needs may be; another school motto is “If a child cannot learn the way we teach maybe we should teach the way they learn.” This means that everything from occupational therapy equipment to wheelchair swings to a water therapy area are available to students. These are just a few of the steps Little Angels takes to ensure that each child is able to be “the best that they can be.”
Principal Angela Keane leads a large staff of around 20 teachers and close to 40 special needs assistants, as well as many other staff members. She has shown admirable commitment to the development of the school, which started out as a three bedroomed house in 1980, but now has been expanded to include much more state of the art facilities. Keane has been committed to providing facilities like hoists, shower areas, kitchens and relaxation spaces in each room to meet and normalise he needs of all students.