Giv­ing young­sters a fresh start at life..

Lennox Herald - - THE BIG READ -

Look­ing at the unas­sum­ing in­dus­trial unit in Alexan­dria it is hard to be­lieve that young peo­ple’s lives are be­ing trans­formed in­side.

But you only have to walk in the door to see that there is a close knit school func­tion­ing within the build­ing.

Colour­ful pa­per and pic­tures of Ard­fern School’s 25 stu­dents line the walls which lead to class­rooms.

And in those class­rooms vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren are be­ing given a chance to an ed­u­ca­tion that they might oth­er­wise miss out on.

They are also learn­ing vi­tal life and so­cial skills that, be­cause of their per­sonal cir­cum­stances, they have missed out on.

A va­ri­ety of rea­sons see the chil­dren come through the doors at the fa­cil­ity, which has been based in Alexan­dria for seven years, and many who find them­selves at the school have nowhere else to turn.

Ard­fern was brought to Alexan­dria due to the high num­ber of pupils from the area be­ing re­ferred to the com­pany’s other fa­cil­ity in Johnstone.

Their some­times com­plex needs were not be­ing met in main­stream school – and that’s where staff at Ard­fern step in.

The school’s 10 teach­ers strive to pro­vide a nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment for pupils with ad­di­tional sup­port needs.

Re­ferred to them by so­cial work de­part­ments as a fi­nal chance at a struc­tured ed­u­ca­tion, ded­i­cated teach­ers work tire­lessly to pro­vide a safe and nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Build­ing re­la­tion­ships and trust is the key to suc­cess at the fa­cil­ity, and de­pute cen­tre man­ager Dar­ren McGlinchey says giv­ing kids a place they feel like they be­long is their top pri­or­ity.

He said: “It’s about giv­ing them some­where they feel like they fit in - some­where they feel like they mat­ter.

“They come to us be­cause be­ing in a school en­vi­ron­ment just isn’t work­ing and they are strug­gling.

“This can be be­cause there is just one teacher for 30 pupils whereas here we have one teacher deal­ing with just five kids.

“This means we can re­ally fo­cus on what they need as many chil­dren here have chal­lenges they need ex­tra sup­port with.

“Ev­ery pupil at this school has their own in­di­vid­ual and spe­cial­ist ed­u­ca­tion plan to help them get the most out of their time here.”

One pupil who has thrived dur­ing his time at Ard­fern School is Alexan­dria teenager Sam Chilcott.

At age 10, Sam came to the school hav­ing ex­hausted all other op­tions.

He strug­gled in a large class and felt like he didn’t mat­ter, which de­stroyed his con­fi­dence.

With his at­ten­dance and be­hav­iour get­ting worse, he was re­ferred to Ard­fern by West Dun­bar­ton­shire Coun­cil so­cial work de­part­ment - and hasn’t looked back.

Now 19, he is work­ing at the school as a class­room as­sis­tant with young peo­ple who have the same dif­fi­cul­ties he had.

He says he sees his younger self in some of the pupils at the school and hopes to help them the way he was helped by Dar­ren and the other teach­ers.

Thanks to their sup­port, Sam was able to go to West Col­lege Scot­land to gain a qual­i­fi­ca­tion in so­cial care.

He hopes to re­turn to col­lege in the fu­ture to fur­ther his qual­i­fi­ca­tions and con­tinue pur­su­ing a ca­reer work­ing with vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren.

He said: “I’m just so happy I can come back and help other peo­ple who are the same way I was.

“I loved my time here as a pupil. Be­fore Ard­fern I hated school and I just couldn’t cope with be­ing in a class­room.

“It was tough when I got here at first but once I set­tled I started en­joy­ing school in a way I never thought I could.

“I never saw my­self do­ing well or go­ing on to do what I have and I hope I can keep study­ing and work­ing with chil­dren.

“I want to help them build their con­fi­dence as I had none at all be­fore I came here. It’s strange look­ing at it from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive but it helps me do the best I can to show them what they can achieve.” Like Sam, a num­ber of pupils at the school have gone on to fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion, hav­ing thrived with sup­port from staff. The school aims to help young peo­ple into adult­hood and fig­ure out what the next stage in their lives will be. Pupils are still taught im­por­tant main­stream sub­jects such as English, maths, phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, tech­nol­ogy and so­cial sub­jects – all of which are SQA ac­cred­ited rang­ing from Na­tional 2 to Na­tional 5 and Higher.

But more im­por­tantly, they are shown valu­able life and so­cial skills that, be­cause of cir­cum­stances, they may not learn any­where else.

Dar­ren added: “Our cur­ricu­lum is still very tra­di­tional in the sense that pupils are still taught in the same way they would be in main­stream school. This means they still sit ex­ams if they can man­age it and they leave with SQA qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

“We also do a lot of work teach­ing them how to cope in so­cial sit­u­a­tions and teach them skills they can use when they leave.

“Some­times be­cause of a dif­fi­cult out­side en­vi­ron­ment, these kids don’t get taught ba­sic things so that is where we come in and pro­vide the nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment they need.”

The close knit fa­cil­ity has con­tin­ued to be a suc­cess since it was opened in 2010.

The Ard­fern com­pany was first opened in 2007 in Johnstone. How­ever, af­ter three years it was de­cided a West Dun­bar­ton­shire branch would be opened due to the num­ber of chil­dren from the area be­ing re­ferred to the school.

Start­ing with just three pupils and three teach­ers, it has now grown to 10 teach­ers with 25 chil­dren aged be­tween 10 and 16.

Pupils also reg­u­larly re­turn to Ard­fern, and each year pupils past and present, and their par­ents, gather to cel­e­brate Christ­mas and also host reg­u­lar fundrais­ing events through­out the year.

Dar­ren ex­plained: “It’s al­ways great when we have all the kids who have been at the school come back.

“We are now onto the third gen­er­a­tion of pupils and to think we started with just three pupils and three teach­ers we have come so far.

“All of the staff here love see­ing the kids do so well, see­ing their con­fi­dence grow over time com­pared to when they first come to us.”

It was tough when I got here at first but once I set­tled I started en­joy­ing school in a way I never thought I could

Sam Chilcott

Learn­ing new skills The kitchen within the school where pupils are taught to cook

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