Ruth Howard, Arts & Education Writer
The School of Therapy, Education and Parenting of Children with Multiple Disabilities, more commonly known as the STEP Centre, has many new reasons to smile. At the top of the list must be the promise of a new facility which will enable the institution to significantly increase the effectiveness of its current programme, as well as the comfort level of students and staff.
This was revealed at a presentation held last month at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica Auditorium, where students from the University of Technology's Caribbean School of Architecture, under the direction of lecturer Mark Martin, showcased their conceptual designs for an interactive playground and garden for the STEP Centre.
It seemed like the UTech students pulled out all the stops in their attempts to capture the heart of the STEP Centre's purpose - facilitating the holistic development of children with a variety of complex learning and developmental challenges - in fun, creative and interactive ways.
One group centred their design around the concept of four elements: earth, wind, fire and water. Another decided to think along more playful lines, incorporating ideas for a mini-train to transport students to and from the playing field and classroom; colour-coded walls and floors; a general outdoors meeting area, or gazebo; a race track for the STEP Centre's famous fun days; and even steel pans for musical exploration.
Explaining the inspiration behind their design, one group leader asserted, "We wanted to take into consideration everything they told us about the centre, to stimulate all the senses ... and also to just make it fun and interesting for the students." A very impressed audience, constantly oohing and aahing as each group presented, confirmed that the designs had achieved that objective.
Hilary Sherlock, principal for the STEP Centre, was visibly pleased with the evening's proceedings. She explained that instead of selecting just one group's design, they would be incorporating different elements from each to see how best they could cater to student and staff needs.
The new centre will be constructed at Tremaine Road in Kingston, with funding from the Digicel Foundation, which has already invested over $28 million into the project. Speaking in a press release, Samantha Chantrelle, executive director of the Digicel Foundation, said, "We believe that every child has a right to a good education … . The STEP Centre is very close to our hearts as it is the first special-needs school the foundation has fully funded."
The building for the new centre is designed by architect Douglas Stiebel, and is expected to house up to 30 students. Persons interested in assisting the centre or learning more about their work can visit their website at www.thestepcentre.com.