Forest Town School
The Forest Town School Foundation (for children with special needs) is the founding organisation in South Africa in the field of education, therapy and medical/clinical treatments for children with complex disabilities. Forest Town School was established in 1948. Over the decades it has served thousands of children and extended its programmes to include youth over the age of 18 years. It additionally, provides further vocationally-based education through work-based training, post-school learnerships, highly specialised medical and clinical services developed together with internationally published medical professors and doctors, and it has been involved with training therapists from University of the Witwatersrand in neurodevelopment occupational, speech and physiotherapy.
The aim of the organisation is to bring every child to his or her best potential, starting as young as the age of three years until they are able to graduate from their accredited post-school learnership programme at the age of 25 years, when they can confidently become contributing and happy citizens of our country. It takes more than eight people of a wide range of specialised activities to work with a child with a combination of disabilities throughout their growing years, which is their right to become contributing and useful citizens as adults. Unfortunately, many funding sources – whether government, corporate social investment (CSI) or private – do not take this into account due to the general lack of knowledge about disability. Organisations such as Forest Town School need to intensively fundraise so that they do not have to compromise their ability to provide essential treatments, support and equipment to children while they are in school and from as early an age as possible.
The Forest Town School currently serves approximately 350 children and youth with complex disabilities, additionally providing them with social welfare and feeding support, transport, assistive devices for mobility and communication, among others. Beneficiaries are drawn from a 60-km radius around Greater Johannesburg.
Over 50 percent of learners are classified as living below the poverty line, which requires that the school meets their every need, both at school and in their homes. The remainder is either fully or partially fee exempt. The organisation is 90 percent Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) compliant, and is a registered as a non-governmental organisation (NGO), public benefit organisation and also under Section 18 tax exemption.
The only subsidy income is derived from an annual grant from the Department of Education, which also provides support for some therapy posts, covering approximately 30 percent of the total annual budget for core expenses and salaries. The remainder must be found through CSI and public support. With this support, the organisation has been able to develop highly successful solutions to unemployment, as the organisation has with its various medical and clinical treatments, some of which are now utilised world-wide.
Classes (Adapted Mainstream) – Pre-primary department (three to six); foundation phase (grades; 1, 2 and 3); intersen phase (grades four to seven); junior modified department (skills based education for more severely disabled children); the media centre: library, whiteboard, video, etc.; the heartlines room for 10 to 18 year old boys, putting values into action; Bella donna finishing school: a life skills course for girls between 13 and 18 years of age and computer laboratory the core centre of reading excellence (literacy and numeracy).
This department focuses on enhancing literacy skills in children at the school. It hopes to extend this programme to include children whose literacy abilities are not up to standard and to offer this model to educators in these schools, where the literacy rates are very poor.
Other aspects falling under the umbrella of Forest Town School are:
The medical wing: doctors and therapy rooms/departments, nurse’s station and case conference room;
Respite care for parents of severely disabled children.
The focus of this project is to give parents of severely disabled children a chance to have a rest. These parents suffer from severe exhaustion and mental stress. Families identified are in financial need, many living only on a caregiver’s dependency grant which is used to pay for monthly expenses for their child. This project requires donor support.
Note: All the specialist professors and doctors (whose reputations are of the highest standing and published in medical journals worldwide), volunteer their time and services free of charge. Some of them initiated the first trials in the world for the use of Botox in the limbs of children with Cerebral Palsy, and some have volunteered for over 40 years.
- Speech therapy and Botox® clinic for drooling in children with cerebral palsy;
- Physiotherapy and Botox® lower limb clinic;
- Spinal clinic;
- Occupational therapy and Botox® hand and upper arm clinic;
- Splinting clinic; and
- Social welfare services: Many children at the school are victims of abuse and/or neglect, mentally, emotionally and physically. Trauma, illness, family dysfunction and the effects of poverty greatly affects their ability to learn effectively.
Other supportive services, buildings, transport, after-care and volunteers:
- Classroom teacher assistants/caregivers: Caregivers are essential to assist educators by providing support for more severely disabled children while they are receiving their education. It is a basic human right which is not catered for in governmental policies regarding the rights of children with disabilities while they are in school;
- Maintenance, grounds and buildings: With a great increase in numbers of beneficiaries and expansion of services, the old buildings are in constant need of repairs and maintenance. Some parts of the school are historic, with the original school building having been built in the early 20th century;
- Transport: Children with disabilities cannot access any form of public transport on their own. They either have to travel by taxi, or utilise the fleet of six buses, and a minibus run by the school. The buses travel a 60-km radius around Greater Johannesburg twice daily. Some of the buses are aged, requiring extensive and expensive maintenance. There is an urgent need to replace the old bus with a minibus;
- Aftercare facilities: Aftercare facilities are available, providing supervised homework, swimming, ball games and lots of fun. Should any child experience any difficulties i.e. having an epileptic fit, the school’s experienced staff are on hand to assist;
- Volunteers: CSI staff volunteer programmes have greatly assisted the school with maintenance of the property over the years; and
- The British Army: The royal signals white helmets motorbike display team.
A unique partnership with the Royal Signals White Helmets Motorbike Display Team (British Army) and supported by Virgin Atlantic Air, Avis and Southern Sun Hotels, was formed in 2000, when a group of 10 soldiers volunteered for two weeks and which continues annually, to help with maintenance and repairs of the buildings. This mission has prevented deeper decay of the ageing infrastructure.
Accredited vocational training and post-school learnership programmes:
Senior modified department for more severely disabled youth: imikhonto training centre 13-18 years
Forest Town School implements the national curriculum as prescribed by the Department of Education. By modifying and adapting the assessment standards, the school is able to meet the needs of this group of 96 more severely disabled teenagers who are grouped according to age and emotional levels. The educator devises a programme for each individual in order to enable the learner to achieve his or her maximum potential. All classes are additionally involved with lessons in the Skills Training Centre (see Work Experience Programme WEP), where they are taught arts and crafts which are sold in the Tsogo coffee and craft shop. Other activities are gardening, food preparation and sale of food items, recycling (cleaning, packing, sorting), housekeeping (washing and ironing), card and gift making, and learners volunteer in the animal kitchen and vegetable tunnel at the Johannesburg Zoological Gardens.
The work experience training centre (WEP) for youth with less complex disabilities:
Phase one (15-18 years):
Because of the lack of adequate training for job skills, the school pioneered the first work-based training centre in an NGO, which provides accredited skills while learners are still in school, including functional literacy, numeracy and life skills programme set out by the Department of Education. At this stage, the concept involves ‘Learning to Earn’, with learners being exposed to all of the aspects of training shown below. After graduating from this first phase, school leavers enter into the post-school learnership programme. Practical examination is done by outside accrediting agencies, involved in:
- IT Technology Training Centre: Microsoft accredited and licensed, Papillion Foundation accredited;
- Beauty Therapy Training Centre: Beaute Nouvelle accredited;
- Rise Commercial Bakery: University of Johannesburg (UJ) accredited;
- Tsogo Coffee and Craft Shop: LIS Hospitality accredited;
- Barista Training: Commenced 13 March 2013 – soon to be UJ accredited;
- Librarianship: In-house library and practical experience at Parkview Public library;
- Breadbin: Server which produces all school educator and learners resources operated by learners in the IT Technology unit;
- Arts and Crafts: This centre provides skills to manufacture items from home for sale in their own communities and in the Tsogo Coffee Shop; and
- Barista Training: Barista training commenced in 2013, and will shortly be accredited by the University of Johannesburg. Training has fallen under Tazza D’Oro Barista Schools, and they are organisation accreditation.
Phase two – WEP at work post school learnerships (19-25 years):
The focus of training now extends to ‘Trading while Training’. Students select one aspect of training in their chosen field for future employment and continue with their accreditation. Learnership students additionally train new first phase students who are being exposed to all aspects of training at the age of 16 years. All training units are open to the public, where learnership students carry out the required marketing, packaging, servicing, accounting and liaison with customers under the supervision of the Head of Department, educators and the occupational therapist.
At this stage, job shadowing also takes place where students are exposed to the commercial world, and the challenges they would need to face when they graduate. The occupational therapist ensures that each student is placed in a suitable working environment. Two examples are of a student who now works as a kitchen assistant at the Morningside Private Hospital, and a further seven students are receiving further training at the Professional Childcare College in Melville to become Level one nursery school assistants. Post training mentorship takes place with both the new employee and the employer in the first year of employment. Johannesburg Zoological Gardens: Learners sell their products from the bakery to staff of the zoo on a weekly basis to gain practical experience in trading outside the training centre, this department is greater capital approved.
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