LVS Hassocks broke new ground in SEN education in June when welcoming a group of learners with autism from Germany for an innovative exchange programme.
The West Sussex school, for children with a diagnosis on the autistic spectrum, hosted their counterparts aged 15 to 17 from Bruckenschule in Reken and Erich Kastner Schule in Oelde for four nights in a visit part-funded by the UK-German Connection.
They enjoyed a mixture of trips out, school projects and socialising which left the two sets of learners having made firm friends and strong bonds despite the language barrier.
The beautiful LVS Hassocks site was formerly the Priory of our Lady Convent, where German teacher Britta Demes had lived for over three years as a nun many years ago.
Having seen that the convent had been converted to a school for learners on the autistic spectrum five years ago, Britta was keen to visit on a recent trip with LVS Hassocks only too happy to accommodate.
After providing her with a tour of the school’s excellent facilities and discovering that Britta now teaches autistic children in Germany, a ground-breaking international exchange of learners with a diagnosis on the autistic spectrum was arranged.
The visitors camped in the school’s vast grounds for their visit, with LVS Hassocks learners helping them pitch their tents and settle in.
Britta explained: “In Germany there are not schools that specifically provide for autistic learners. There are disability schools which mean that whereas at LVS Hassocks learners are comfortable in lessons knowing they are socialising with others who understand them and share their hopes and worries, in Germany an autistic child could be isolated in a class amongst physically handicapped children who do not have the same understanding of their condition.
“Brendon is usually very shy but already he is at ease and making jokes with the Hassocks learners.”
LVS Hassocks’ learners ensured that their guests experienced a real flavour of England, with Jess making them a cream tea and explaining the tradition behind it, whilst on a trip to Brighton Pier Callum led the way to his own choice of fish and chip shops on the seafront.
The visit also brought out the best in LVS Hassocks’ learners too, inspiring interest in new things such as bell ringing and crafts.
Whilst some of the German children already speak good English, what could have been a language barrier actually proved to be a driver for socialising as Cameron and others practised German phrases they had been taught by their visitors.
Parents as well as learners were delighted with the initiative, with Mrs Tarron commenting: “It was a great opportunity for our children to showcase their strengths and skills – thanks to LVS Hassocks for giving them the chance. My son Lee is looking forward to hopefully visiting Germany next year.”
In LVS Hassocks’ expansive grounds, the two groups of learners simply merged into one, with some enjoying and taking notes from Callum’s guitar playing, others joining in a friendly game of football and the rest chatting together in the school canteen.
Britta was delighted, saying: “They are all managing to communicate so well, want to do it and are enjoying it.
“Unlike at home in Germany they are surrounded by so many people their age with the same backgrounds and challenges and it is really helping them to relax.”
The German guests brought with them all the equipment and tools necessary to fully build and demonstrate a working model of the English Channel, complete with tidal hydroelectric generator and flowing water.
For the staff and students at LVS Hassocks it was a fascinating project to be involved with, and in front of a full assembly German learner Brandon presented the finished model to backing music from Callum, much to the audience’s delight.
LVS Hassocks Head of Centre Kira Brabenec said: “The visit has been a great success and I am really pleased that our guests had such a good time.
“I am so proud of the way in which our learners conducted themselves and took on a lot of responsibility themselves to be excellent hosts and look after their visitors.
“The trip has really emphasised how lucky we are at LVS Hassocks, where all of our learners are able to enjoy their school life reassured by being surrounded by friends who understand them and can look out for them.
“We hope this will be an ongoing programme of exchange where we can visit Germany next year, and also maybe set up other beneficial offshoots such as a teacher exchange and German evening classes.”
Report and picture contributed by LVS Hassocks.