Evie Burrows-Taylor takes a tour.
Hidden away in the leafy Ho Man Tin area of Kowloon, unknown to many, the Jockey Club Sarah Roe School (JCSRS) is one of the true jewels in Hong Kong education. Dedicated to children aged five to 19 with special needs, the school is the only one of its kind under the English Schools Foundation (ESF) umbrella.
in 1985, it owes its unusual name to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which provided the school building, and Sarah Roe, a therapist working with children with special needs in Hong Kong, who recently passed away in the UK.
Catering to children with very different kinds of needs, the school’s team – an eclectic mix of nine specialist teachers, including one PE teacher, five therapists and education assistants – works together to tailor the curriculum to suit each pupil. Each class is made up of seven-10 students; each student has an individual education plan to enable staff to meet the needs of all pupils.
“Our staff is hardworking, committed and passionate,” says Principal, Karin Wetselaar, who has been with the school for 18 months, and originally hails from the Australian capital, Canberra.
Parents are also integral to the process. “Working in partnership with families is really important to us,” Wetselaar says. “We’re really lucky because our team here works together, around the student, allowing us to have a very trans-disciplinary approach to teaching.”
The curriculum, currently undergoing an overhaul, is soon to be brought more in line with the ESF programme, which follows the International Baccalaureate (IB). The new curriculum will be introduced next term, replacing the ASDAN award programme, an activity based curriculum.
“For some of our students it’s about a balance between academics and independent skills. Our students tend to need a little bit more repetition, structure and routine, but we differentiate just like every other teacher does,” Wetselaar says.
Students are often referred to JCSRS from other ESF schools, after taking a test to determine how much extra attention they need. While all ESF schools cater to children with learning difficulties, and some are even equipped with special learning support centres, the students most in need of a tailored curriculum are sent here. The process of admitting a new student is thorough, and follows guidelines set out by ESF.
But while in some ways the JCSRS is very different to mainstream schools, inevitably it shares many similarities. “Getting to know the child, developing a relationship with them and communicating with the families are all key when it comes to teaching any child,” Wetselaar explains.
Despite being such a small community – the school is about to reach capacity as it welcomes its 70th student – it is a microcosm of Hong Kong in its multicultural make-up, with around 14 nationalities represented by the student body alone. “The multicultural nature of the school makes it a very rich environment,” Wetselaar says.
The intimacy of JCSRS also means that every student has the chance to take part in the annual Christmas performance. The show, high on the agenda for students, staff and parents alike, took place last year on December 11.
“It’s very, very popular and a fantastic opportunity for the kids to shine and be creative,” Wetselaar says. “We’re very lucky we have a part-time music therapist, who contributes a lot to the event and the teachers are amazingly creative.”
While Wetselaar highlights the great support JCSRS receives from its school council, ESF and the parents, the school is responsible for its own fund-raising, and holds events dedicated to raising money throughout the year. In 2016, it will kick off with a Jazz Fest at Grappa’s Cellar on Connaught Road, on 22 and 23 January. Anyone interested in attending and supporting the school can register for the event online.
Money raised from the Jazz Fest will go towards growing the school’s facilities. These currently include a hydrotherapy pool, independent living skills room, library and creative arts space. “We’re very fortunate to have such good facilities,” Wetselaar says. In the New Year, the car park next to JCSRS will be converted into an outdoor space that the pupils can use, and the school is also about to upgrade its art room.
While in the past it has been limited by its lack of outdoor space, JCSRS has maintained an impressive roster of sporting activities for its pupils, including kayaking, sailing, tennis, tenpin bowling. It also runs swimming classes after school. Students are transported to these activities using the school’s fleet of buses.
JCSRS students are subject to the same fees as students attending other ESF schools, but even so the school is able to create a bright, happy and enthusiastic atmosphere for its wide variety of pupils. And as such a rarity in Hong Kong’s education system, JCSRS deserves better recognition.