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.
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.