Students in class Giant Steps

Feature Story: Giant Steps Tasmania

A rare insight into Giant Steps School in Deloraine…

This week we had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk with Tim Chugg, Prin­ci­pal of Giant Steps Tas­ma­nia. Tim shares his per­spec­tives on being the leader of a spe­cialised school and dis­cuss­es some of the excit­ing things that are hap­pen­ing in the school.
Students working in class at Giant Steps
Students in class Giant Steps
Students Giant Steps
Students at the beach Giant Steps
Student in Pool Giant Steps

Hel­lo Tim,

As the only school exclu­sive­ly for indi­vid­u­als with autism in Tas­ma­nia, can you tell us a lit­tle about your school and how you approach dai­ly school life?

Our approach as a school for indi­vid­u­als with autism is that we are first and fore­most a school. We are here to pro­vide our awe­some stu­dents with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn and grow. To do this we pro­vide a very indi­vid­u­alised cur­ricu­lum and expe­ri­ence that helps stu­dents find their strengths and gain the con­fi­dence to take risks and have a go at new things. We work in life skills and social emo­tion­al skills to give stu­dents the tools to take on adult life and be a part of their com­mu­ni­ty. So every day is an adventure.

Can you share with us some of the excit­ing ini­tia­tives that you have embarked upon in the recent years?

Some of the most excit­ing devel­op­ments over the last few years have been stu­dent led. When we gave our stu­dents an oppor­tu­ni­ty to be heard they have had some great ideas and amazed us with their sophis­ti­cat­ed thoughts and insights. This has large­ly come through our Stu­dent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil. We put this in place a few years ago and it has been fan­tas­tic. Stu­dents have devel­oped a House Sys­tem, they put in place a School Cap­tain and worked out how elec­tions should be run. Stu­dents have designed aspects of our play­ground and gar­den and have had their input includ­ed into pol­i­cy consultations.

The oth­er excit­ing devel­op­ment has been the growth of film mak­ing in our school. Start­ing from 2 stu­dents show­ing an inter­est in enter­ing a short film com­pe­ti­tion (Focus on Abil­i­ty) we now have had ten stu­dents enter a film or doc­u­men­tary this year and sev­er­al oth­er have made a film sim­ply for fun. Their ideas and plot lines are such an eclec­tic mix! We try and let them do them as inde­pen­dent­ly as pos­si­ble and the result­ing films are mar­vel­lous. Some are real­ly unique and an insight into the student’s world. Oth­ers are wild and action packed and an exten­sion of their spe­cial interests.

What have been some of your most pop­u­lar pro­grams that you have run at the school?

Swim­ming is always pop­u­lar. We are lucky to have an indoor pool and we are also lucky that we received com­mu­ni­ty fund­ing to improve the heat­ing sys­tem a few years ago. We mix in ses­sions that are pure­ly for fun and social­is­ing with prop­er swim­ming lessons. It is great for fit­ness, social skills, and water safety.

Stu­dents have also enjoyed STEM ses­sions. They love to plan for and get involved with hands on projects and we have lots of great learn­ing along the way. Build­ing cat­a­pults and design­ing paper planes keeps them excit­ed and involved with the lessons.

As the leader of Giant Steps what are some of the most reward­ing aspects of your role at this school?

See­ing the growth in our stu­dents is always a reward­ing part of my role. Cel­e­brat­ing the achieve­ments of our stu­dents keeps us all moti­vat­ed and we learn that even small steps can have huge impli­ca­tions. Watch­ing chil­dren gain the con­fi­dence to read or have a go at a maths prob­lem is great but it can be some­thing as sim­ple as see­ing a stu­dent ask anoth­er stu­dent to play with them. Many of our stu­dents have had quite a neg­a­tive time in their school life and many take some time to trust their peers and our staff. Some of my proud­est moments have been when I see a stu­dent gain a sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty and pride in help­ing their friends. Maybe they help oth­er stu­dents read a book or they guide a friend through an activ­i­ty. Show­ing our stu­dents that they have worth and can be lead­ers and that they have val­ue to their community.

Can you share with us some of the chal­lenges you faced dur­ing COVID and how you over­came them?

COVID was a very dif­fi­cult time for our stu­dents and their fam­i­lies. Remote Learn­ing was cer­tain­ly not ide­al for all whilst oth­ers sur­prised us with how well they took to it. Keep­ing every­one safe was the main chal­lenge. Stu­dents longed to be back at school and hav­ing to keep them away dur­ing iso­la­tion or quar­an­tine peri­ods was a chal­lenge. I feel some stu­dents have still not ful­ly recov­ered from that time as it was a real jolt to their rou­tines and sense of safe­ty and belong­ing. I think that we sur­vived that time as best we could through good and hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion. We report­ed back to fam­i­lies as much as we could and over the last few years, we have com­mu­ni­cat­ed a great deal of health infor­ma­tion and giv­en fam­i­lies the infor­ma­tion they need to make choices.

We have noticed you have a new build­ing project occur­ring at the school can you tell us a lit­tle about this new project?

This is very excit­ing. Through ISB­GAT we were able to secure a Cap­i­tal Grant that com­bined with our own fund­ing has led to us being able to take on this project. The project involves the build­ing of a new 2 class­room build­ing. This will be our very first pur­pose-built class­room build­ing and we are very excit­ed. Along with the new build we are con­vert­ing an exist­ing prop­er­ty into an Allied Health hub. This will house offices for our Occu­pa­tion­al Ther­a­pist and an Allied Health Work­room for her use and for vis­it­ing pro­fes­sion­als. The build­ing will also house a new Snoeze­len Room (sen­so­ry room) that will be a fab­u­lous asset for our students.

Is there any­thing else that you would like to share with us about your won­der­ful school?

I think that Giant Steps Tas­ma­nia is an excel­lent option for young peo­ple that need some­thing dif­fer­ent. We are here to help the indi­vid­ual find their path and give them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be part of a school. It is a mat­ter of choice and fam­i­lies can choose to make us a part of their child’s life. We can do dual enrol­ments and we love to work with oth­er schools to get the best for the stu­dents. We try to avoid the use of the term Spe­cial School”. We are a school, and we don’t like to think that an enrol­ment with us is detri­men­tal to a stu­dent, rather it opens oppor­tu­ni­ties and expe­ri­ences that may not have been avail­able to our stu­dents oth­er­wise. I am proud of our school and am in awe of our won­der­ful staff, stu­dents, and families.

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