School autism unit is opened
Ballymitty National School officially opened its new autism unit, 'An Choill Bheag' in a ceremony before a gathering of parents and staff.
Principal, Audrey McCarthy, welcomed the visitors to the school and a warm word of welcome was extended to the school's five new pupils who have created their own bit of history as the first children to enter the unit.
In her address Ms McCarthy mentioned that official openings are usually reserved for new buildings, however, the staff in Ballymitty school felt it was appropriate to welcome the inaugural class of An Choill Bheag.
The name was chosen by the staff and means 'the little forest'.
It was highlighted on the day that many parents, community members, and friends of the school made kind donations to help with the set up and new teacher, Ms Bríd Casey, thanked everyone who worked hard at ensuring the unit was ready in time for September 1.
Ms McCarthy thanked Ms Casey and the two new Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) Christine Casey and Síona Nolan for their fantastic work with the pupils to-date.
She also thanked the staff for making the school an autism friendly place.
Autism Awareness Week was held in September and those in attendance were informed that the school is making small changes to develop awareness and enhance support for the sensory needs of the pupils.
Ms McCarthy said the school plans to open another unit in the future if the need arises.
The Chairperson of the Board of Management, Fr Martin Pender, thanked everyone who supported the new venture which he said will be an invaluable addition to the school.
Highlighting how times are changing in a positive way Fr Pender emphasised that many years ago there were very few, if any, supports for children with autism.
Maireád French, who was a teacher and Principal in Ballymitty NS for many years, also spoke at the ceremony and discussed how funding for such projects can be slow to secure from the Department of Education.
She also underlined the importance of the unit and how it will provide a positive impact on the lives of the children who are taught in it.
Pupils from Sixth class, who are buddies for the children in An Choill Bheag, described how they support them each day with one child commenting: 'It is an honour to help these pupils'.
The ceremony finished with a reading from a poem called 'Take My Hand'.