How the Berry Street School helped Grace look forward to the future

 

Grace* suffered shocking abuse as a little girl. Her early childhood was filled with fear and chaos. She never knew the comfort of a routine or the support of a trusted adult.  This start to life had a profound effect on her - including a significantly interrupted education.  
 
When Grace was reunited with her grandmother three years ago, life began to look up. Finally, she had a secure and loving home. 
 
And when Grace started at the Berry Street School her future looked even more assured. 
 
The school is one of Australia’s most innovative, created for the specific educational needs of children recovering from neglect and abuse. Its staff are specially trained and the curriculum is unique - every student has an individual learning plan with clear goals and outcomes. 
 
Given the trauma Berry Street School students have experienced, many find it hard to remain seated, concentrate or control their emotions in class. That can make going to mainstream schools impossible. But at the Berry Street School, each staff member is an expert in childhood trauma. The staff to student ratio is an incredible 1:6. 
 
Lucy, a wellbeing coordinator at the school, explains how the school supports students. “Each morning in Grace’s class, the students and teachers form a large circle and talk about what’s happening for the day. It helps the kids ease into the day and helps give the teachers a feel for any kids who are having an extra hard time.”
 
“Along with learning standard subjects such as Maths and English, Berry Street School students benefit from a trauma-informed learning approach. They learn how to develop healthy relationships with themselves and others. Teachers help them self-regulate their emotions and understand that their behaviour is often the result of the trauma they’ve experienced. 
 
“Specially trained staff also help students focus on their own strengths, foster self-esteem and build their confidence. And if they’re struggling in class, teachers will work one-on-one with them to ensure they don’t get frustrated or feel they’re failing. Subjects and timetables are flexible to adapt to individual learning needs,” says Lucy. 
 
One of the highlights of the school is unconditional love from Phoebe, the therapy dog. Phoebe has an incredible sense of when the kids are struggling and need her support. 
 
“The other morning, I was talking to a distressed young person in the hallway,” says Lucy. “Phoebe sort of trotted by on her way to breakfast, but then turned around and came back without being called. She just came back and leant against the child offering support. No wonder the kids adore her.”
 
Grace’s grandmother Maggie* can also see the change in Grace since she’s started at the Berry Street School. “The things Grace went through when she was younger show just how unfair life can be. I’m blessed to have her in my life now and I’m so grateful to the staff at the Berry Street School. 
 
“She used to cry herself to sleep and now she’s actually able to talk about her future. She wants to be a childcare worker. I think she’ll be wonderful at it,” Maggie says.

 

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*Name has been changed in the interest of privacy. The models and volunteers pictured are not connected to the case study.