Jan 11, 2024, Westmeather Examiner: New special educational needs unit a ‘tremendous’ asset to Mercy Secondary School
A welcome addition to Mercy Secondary School's new home in Kilbeggan is the special educational needs unit, which the students attached to the classes have named ‘Asgard’.
The name Asgard comes from the dwelling place of the gods (Odin, Thor, Loki…) in Norse mythology. The stories of Norse mythology emphasise the importance of independence, self-reliance, loyalty, generosity, compassion, courage, and most importantly, wisdom. It is those virtues (among others) the school hopes to instil in the students and made it a fitting name for the new special educational needs unit.
The facility includes four ASD classrooms, a sensory room, a sensory integration room, two daily living skills rooms and an outdoor soft ground recreational area.
Asgard co-ordinator at the school, Gareth Donnelly, said that the new facility is “a world apart” from where they were. “In the old school, we were working out of prefabs that had three basic classrooms and little else, to be completely honest. Now we are looking at a modern facility that has a number of specialist rooms in it.
“We have got four classrooms now, and each is set up for different interests and subjects,” he said.
A popular addition to the school is the multi-sensory room. It has sensory grass and liquid flooring, colour changing bubble tubes and fibre optics, interactive wall panels and relaxing projectors that gives students the opportunity to relax.
“We have a multi-sensory room, which is really important for the students in Asgard. If they need to take a break or a place to relax, they can do that there. It’s set up in a way they can tailor it to their individual preferences and it has been really popular with the students,” said Mr Donnelly.
There is also a sensory integration room that gives students the chance to engage in physical activity. That room includes a climbing wall, a boxing bag, dartboard, archery and other activities.
“It is a place for students to exercise and to expel excess energy, which is fantastic. Outside the room we have a pool table, a table tennis, Lego, and a full library. We wanted to recognise how different everyone is and it was important for us to facilitate all needs and interests,” Gareth said.
Since establishment in September 2009, the autism classes have grown substantially; a second class was added in 2012, a third in 2021, and a fourth class this year. The classes cater for 24 students from first to sixth years and are an intrinsic part of the school community.
Commending the teachers and special needs assistants, Gareth said: “We are really lucky to have such dedicated staff,” who include nine designated Asgard teachers and 12 SNAs.
“We are so happy with our new building and it is providing the type of education the students truly deserve,” he said.