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Broken Bay launches new disability education model

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Bill Clark with grandson Leo, one of the first students enrolled under the new model of educating students with disability in Broken Bay. Photo: Diocese of Broken Bay
Bill Clark with grandson Leo, one of the first students enrolled under the new model of educating students with disability in Broken Bay. Photo: Diocese of Broken Bay

Families of children with disability are the biggest supporters of Australia’s first diocese-wide Catholic school model poised to operate from a base on the New South Wales central coast by 2027.

Eileen O’Connor Catholic School will cater to students from Kindergarten to Year 12 through a new campus and network of support classes at existing schools on the central coast, northern beaches and north shore within the Broken Bay diocese.

The base school will be built as a centre of excellence within the St Peter’s Catholic College precinct at Tuggerah and accommodate 200 students.

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The $65 million project will offer specialist facilities alongside mainstream opportunities with 46 students already enrolled in Eileen O’Connor support classes at primary schools in Davidson, Munmorah and Wahroonga.

“It has taken a huge weight of stress and worry off our shoulders knowing that St Martin’s would support Leo in a way that meets his learning needs in such a beautiful and friendly community,” said Anne-Louise Behm, whose son Leo was enrolled in the satellite classes at St Martin’s Catholic Primary School in Davidson last year.

His grandfather Bill Clark said it was an “answer to all our prayers.”

“For so long we’ve been concerned about how he would cope at school and having this wonderful facility has enthused him,” he said.

“It’s going to be an amazing development opportunity for him but also makes us happy that he’s experiencing his own little adventure.”

Principal Fiona Dignan said parents appreciate having a midway option between specialist and mainstream schooling, with tailored support aimed at integrating children into the larger cohort.

“Families will be included in activities such as sport carnivals, excursions and concerts and all the backend parts like the newsletter and parent WhatsApp groups,” she said.

“These children will not stay in the support class for ever, that’s not an end point, we want to see what their potential is and we don’t know that unless we give them the opportunity and help them build those skill sets.

“But some parents will prefer a specialised setting, and we are all about offering that choice.”

Launching the plans on 15 March Bishop Anthony Randazzo said they reflect a period of review and consultation following a commitment in 2021 to expand services for students with disabilities.

Diocesan director of schools Danny Casey said with one in 12 school-aged students living with a disability the organisation was committed to providing an inclusive model of education.

“It’s our mission to ensure every child has access to a Catholic education,” he said.

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