2016 has seen a few changes at Giant Steps Tasmania. We have welcomed Gayle Plunket onto the board. Gayle is a local architect and her enthusiasm for the work of Giant Steps Tasmania has made her a very valuable addition to the team. We have also welcomed new aides and therapy assistants. Our aides are the backbone of our organisation and their work is central to providing the sort of service our students and adult clients need. The passion, care and commitment that they show on a daily basis, in sometimes challenging circumstances, is inspiring. We have also been very pleased to welcome Bianca Kenney this year. Bianca has taken on the demanding task of teaching Blue Room, which is the class for our older students. Bianca’s calm manner and commitment to ensuring that quality care exists alongside academic progress makes her a respected and valuable member of the teaching team. Our much loved Speech Pathologist Amon Alas left to further his studies and we have been lucky enough to have secured the services of Paige Woods to replace him. Paige is doing a great job, has settled in quickly and is already taking the lead in introducing an exciting new literacy programme. We feel very fortunate to have her on board.
Perhaps the biggest change in terms of our staffing is the retirement of our front office stalwart Pip Schmidt. Pip leaves us to concentrate on travel and her passion for bush walking. Pip was the person most parents, businesses, carers and service providers dealt with over the last decade. Everyone involved in any way with Giant Steps Tasmania will appreciate the enormous role that Pip played in the development of the organisation and will, I know, want to wish good luck to her and her family in their future adventures. Our new addition in the office is Leanne Osmond. Leanne is learning the ropes quickly and has already made a positive difference to our Parents’ Newsletter. She has big shoes to fill but is doing an excellent job.
Towards the end of 2015 the board and I recognised the need to add to our administration team. With the increase in numbers in the school and the slowly expanding Next Steps group the demands of a modern organisation were getting harder and harder to meet. We therefore decided to create a new position with the title of Education Administrator. The education administrator is responsible for a variety of tasks including policy development, occupational health and safety and some areas of curriculum and program development. Chris Jacobsen joined us in February, having recently arrived from a senior administrative position in Abu Dhabi. Chris and I have devised a method of policy drafting and consultation which involves all staff members who seem to be enjoying the level of input. The work she is doing is freeing me up to work on other areas and we are forming a very effective partnership.
Being the first point of call for the majority of people who reach out to Giant Steps Tasmania, I am saddened and occasionally frustrated by the stories I hear from the families and carers of young people on the spectrum. Fitting effectively and meaningfully into the mainstream environment is a tough task for our students, their teachers, peers and families. These situations are rarely black and white and it is always a suite of issues that leads to the breakdown of a student’s enrolment. At Giant Steps Tasmania we continue to be a source of hope for families who are having a tough time and it is a wonderful occurrence when we can change lives for the better. This year we have been able to accommodate a young person for two days in our program. This is a huge step for the individual as previous to this there had been several years of no contact or inclusion in any formal schooling. To see this young person engage with their peers and proudly show completed work to a parent is a privilege and pleasure to witness. With the growing confidence of this student we are now able to look at the next steps and see where we can expand their daily options. We offer the chance for people to have an individual curriculum in an environment that can be modified to suit their needs. This can be enough to help a young person back into the community from a place of isolation.
As part of our continued efforts to improve the quality of our service and best equip our staff with the tools to work effectively with a variety of clients, half of the Giant Steps Tasmania team took part in a two day Predict Assess & Respond To (PART™) Challenging Behaviour course provided by MTU training. The course helped staff think about how to prevent behaviours which present challenges to teachers and aides as well as to the students and adult clients themselves. As a result of the PART™ Training, staff members increased their ability to notice triggers and potential causes of physical behaviour. They also looked at the preparation of the environment and the use of staff within the environment and practised verbal de-escalation strategies. The course was very well received by those who took part and other staff will be given the opportunity to take part in the future.
Our First Steps program is currently seeing quite a significant decrease in clients. While this is sad for the program, it is positive in that young children with an ASD are being given more choice of early interventions. Services have increased in Launceston and along the North West Coast and I believe that it is this which has resulted in our drop in numbers. Providers in these areas are also offering high quality services and reducing the need for very young children and their families to travel long distances to access them. Our core business will always be the School and our Adult clients. The services we provide for these clients are either non-existent elsewhere or not easily replicated by other providers.
Numbers in the School are currently at 28.4 full time equivalent (FTE) students, with 42 individual students attending. This is an increase of two from the end of 2015 when we had 26.4 FTEs and a quite impressive rise of 8.6 from the end of 2014 when we had 19.8 FTEs. We are essentially full and have very little room for many more students. It is excellent that we can make a difference in the lives of so many young people and assist our partner mainstream schools make adjustments to meet their needs. We do this by providing the individual curriculum that helps children to learn and expand their skills and by having highly-skilled teachers able to differentiate their lessons to accommodate a variety of learners at different levels.
The Next Step group is also doing well and their 10 clients have a great week participating in a variety of activities and experiences. The crew of Next Steps are always looking for new things to participate in. A great feature of this year’s program has been the Friday Ladies’ Outing. On this day some of the female clients escape the boys for the afternoon or morning and go and have a cup of tea and a scone in a café or restaurant. This is a great Life Skills learning opportunity and offers a fantastic social setting where the staff and clients are just friends having a chat. The boys left behind get up to some fun activities while our ladies are out. There are some exciting times in store for this group in the future and I expect their numbers to rise steadily as the years go on.
Giant Steps Tasmania has been very fortunate to have received a lot of support from all around the state. This has included large donations as well as equally valued small gestures of generosity or help. We are always made to feel wanted and of value to the community and have received a sizeable grant of $27,157.90 from the Deloraine and Districts Community Bank. This was for improvements to our pool area, including a heat pump that now allows our students and adult clients to swim all year round. We were also very grateful to receive a donation from the family of a former student, Adam Poke. Adam’s grandmother left the school $16,600.00 in her will. We were humbled by this gesture and although it resulted from a sad event, we enjoyed catching up with Adam and his mother Shirley when they presented the cheque to us. Another extremely generous donation, this time from Brian and Wendy Faulkner will be used to make improvements to several buildings around the campus. Brian and Wendy were very keen to help us and we are very pleased and grateful to have their support. I think the generosity of the community to our students and our organisation shows what a valuable part of the community they are seen to be.
I am very proud to be the Principal of our organisation and humbled by the trust that has been placed in me to keep Giant Steps Tasmania not just running but providing a high quality education and level of service to our students and adult clients. I want Giant Steps Tasmania to be a place of hope and success for our clients and their families; a place where those on the spectrum are not only accepted and understood but where they are challenged, allowed to flourish and grow into active members of our community. Achieving this is an individual process as our students and clients are all unique with a variety of goals and visions for the future.
I would like to end my Annual Report by acknowledging the members of the board, whose dedication and service to Giant Steps Tasmania is appreciated by everyone in our community and for whose support, guidance and encouragement I am particularly grateful.
Giant Steps Tasmania