Growing up with special educational needs is a life-long challenge
There are 1.5 million people like Andrew living in the UK who have a learning disability. They often find it harder than others to learn, understand and communicate.
The "Grow and Learn" project at Gateshead does more than just support special educational needs.
With the support and specialist knowledge of a Horticultural Therapist, every young person has the opportunity to study for and attain a City & Guilds Award in Horticulture.
Working with two local schools, Cedars Academy and Keelman’s School, 14 pupils are working together at Thrive in Saltwell Park, Gateshead.
Andrew is one of them and is clearly enjoying the course, recognising that gardening can help him to become more independent, learn new skills, make friends and achieve a nationally recognised qualification at the end of it.
"Gardening at Thrive is helping me get ready to leave school and get a job doing something I love. One day I would like to work with plants in somewhere as nice as Saltwell Park."
One of the challenges facing the therapist is in helping pupils overcome any anxiety they may have about tests. City & Guilds courses do involve assessments but supporting the young people through this is a key part of building their confidence and belief in their abilities. The positive changes have been noticed by the school staff as well as the pupils themselves.
"The students really enjoy working with Thrive. They have gained new skills and look forward to coming every week," Mr McCabe, Form Teacher
A learning disability is lifelong and usually has a significant impact on a person's life. But with initiatives like "Grow and Learn" every person has a chance to achieve something tangible which will provide future opportunities. Andrew and his fellow gardeners on the course really appreciate that.
Thrive horticultural therapist Suzanne Amey said: "When I first met the pupils they were a little nervous about coming to Thrive and what they would be asked to do.
"However, our individualised approach means that tasks are adapted to ensure all the students can confidently meet the requirements of the course. They have also been helped to overcome a fear of tests, understanding that they can pass assessments with flying colours with the right support.
"One of the best things about Grow and Learn is that it offers pupils a springboard to other opportunities such as work experience or further training. Every one of them will be able to attain a qualification, whether it be an Award, Certificate or Diploma – a fantastic achievement!"
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Many of the pupils are already realising that a host of exciting possibilities are within their grasp. In Andrew’s case he is due to leave school in September and this project is proving instrumental in opening his eyes to the range of work possibilities which could open up.