Helping children like six-year-old Thomas Causley reach their full learning potential is a passion for Dr Christine Grima-Farrell.
Thomas is a bright and happy little boy who is excited about starting kindergarten next year at Maria Regina Primary School in Avalon.
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Diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a baby his mum Lisa says he loves learning and has already reached the average reading level of Year 1 students.
“As soon as we met Chris we were overwhelmed with how welcoming she was to the school and to the Catholic system, and has made it a nice transition for us,” Mrs Causley said.
“Thomas is so excited, he’s been to the orientation sessions and met the teachers and the other future students, and every time we mention ‘Maria Regina’ and ‘big school’ he just lights up.”
Dr Grima-Farrell, head of the Student Support Team in the Broken Bay Catholic Schools Office, is passionate about making sure there are no limits on learning for Thomas and children like him.
For almost three decades the educator has helped teachers boost their skills and confidence to work with students with diagnosed disabilities.
Her efforts have won her the 2019 Brother John Taylor Fellowship, a $20,000 research prize offered annually by Catholic Schools NSW.
The prize will enable her to study the latest special needs teaching approaches in the US and Canada.
“Jesus said ‘Let all the children come to me’, and we provide services so all children can flourish and feel that they belong to the learning community in the Broken Bay diocese,” she said.
“The highlight for me is to see children like Thomas engaging with learning, and to see their ‘aha’ moments really puts a fire in my soul.”
Dr Grima-Farrell said she felt fortunate to lead a dedicated team who work collaboratively with stakeholders including teachers, students, families and medical practitioners to plan adjustments that break down barriers and improve access, enabling full participation in school life and experience a real sense of belonging.
She was “very honoured and humbled” to be awarded the prize and said that her research will aim to build teacher confidence and capacity to maximise engagement and success for students with special needs.
“I am very grateful to the director of schools Peter Hamill, and head of education services Dr Mark Askew and Catholic Schools NSW for their support which enables me to work in this area I really love and am very passionate about.”
Dr Grima-Farrell said her research will focus on assisting teachers and school leaders to know more about how to adjust classroom design and curriculum to help break down barriers and improve individual students’ capacity to learn.
CSNSW Director of Education Policy, Danielle Cronin, said the Brother John Taylor Fellowship gave Catholic educators an opportunity to research first-hand international, evidence-based teaching approaches that can benefit Catholic school teachers and students.
“Christine is a strong advocate for inclusion in schools and won out over a very good field,” she said.
The Fellowship honours John Taylor, a Christian Brother, and his dedication to quality education and equity over 30 years as a teacher, principal and Catholic education administrator.