Kelly Crane learns about a new facility dedicated to offering an alternative approach to education for the city’s children.
Discovering your child is struggling at school, whether academically, emotionally or socially, is one of the most difficult things a parent has to face. We all want to imagine our precious little things running happily in the playground and excelling in every subject. For many however, this carefree ideal isn’t reality.
Perhaps a bigger misconception is that children with special needs mean only those with severe learning difficulties. Also, not true. An endless list of unavoidable or unexplainable reasons mean many children do not excel or even fit in at a mainstream educational institution, leaving parents at a worrying dead end.
Co-founder and Assistant Director of the brand new Widad Centre, Jasmine Swiel, can however offer a pretty attractive alternative.
The Widad Center opened this month and is a full-time educational programme offering children an alternative to mainstream schooling.
‘We teach the traditional subjects using a more nurturing approach and creative curriculum, based on tapping into the development of the child,’ says South African Swiel. ‘We aim to not only educate children, but to also install in them social awareness and environmental responsibility.’
Widad, a female Arabic name encompassing love, family, relationships and affection, was a collaboration of ideas between Swiel and American Nicole Fiorentino, also a director at the centre.
The core philosophy at Widad is teaching children to be socially aware and therefore more responsible.
‘By teaching children how to take care of themselves, their peers, environment and the community, we provide them with additional tools for success in life,’ says Fiorentino.
The Widad Centre is aimed predominantly at those who cannot cope with mainstream school environment for whatever reason but is open to all.
‘Some children find their life just conflicts with standard schooling,’ Swiel says. ‘There are many children struggling with varying difficulties which do not include the general label of special needs, and they are the ones who often suffer the most.’
Having spent endless hours inside classrooms witnessing children and students struggling to keep up and truly benefit from their education, the duo decided it was time for a change.
The programme at Widad acknowledges no two children are the same, according to Swiel. It’s a holistic approach to education with a therapeutic team trained to support teaching staff and students alike.
‘There is no programme in the UAE where children have a comprehensive educational experience including traditional subjects, creative arts, cooking, music and gardening all wrapped up into weekly lesson plans,’ says Fiorentino.
‘The Cookie Bar joins the centre in 2014 offering vocational experiences too.’
An intimate class size – a maximum of ten students per teacher – and natural materials provide an environment tailored to enhance learning, rather than overwhelm it.
The curriculum at Widad started life at a small school in the United States more than 30 years ago. It was later developed as a home school curriculum and became widely popular amongst home school families across the world.
‘The UAE community has come a long way in terms of accepting children and people with special needs but even the term special needs has associations which are very misleading, says Swiel. ‘There are always children who fall through the cracks and we still have a lot of work to do in truly understanding the needs of special learners.’
For information about admissions email email@example.com or visit www.widadlearning.com.
Support for specific needs
Special Needs Families Future Development Centre
A non-profit group supporting families with children who have special needs by organising a range of days out and activities.
Al Kuwait Street, Karama, www.snfgroup.com (04 334 9818).
UAE Downs Syndrome Association
A non-profit group looking to build awareness of the condition and offering support to families with Downs Syndrome children. Perfect for those new in town and needing support.
Jumeirah, www.uaedsa.ae (04 344 4471).