Come 7 September, first day of term at the new Kisharon School, no one will be more proud than Principal Sora Kopfstein.
She will welcome 45 pupils, most from the old Finchley Road premises, but 12 from specialist or mainstream schools, to a building where every feature, no matter now seemingly insignificant, has been designed to meet the needs of learning disabled students.
But it isn’t just the bespoke building that cuts the mustard for Sora, but that this stage was reached against a background of Covid-19.
“Because of Covid-19 we carried out the entire transition process for new pupils remotely. We meet all new pupils in their homes initially, and this had to be done remotely too, as were meetings of the pupils’ therapy teams.”
In line with government guidelines, every child will be expected at school unless there is medical evidence otherwise. Pupils, in bubbles of up to eight, will have dedicated staff to avoid infection. Morning start times will be staggered to maintain social distance and pupils will be met and escorted to their classroom. Lunch will be eaten either in the classroom or the school hall and school assemblies won’t be assemblies at all, but broadcast to the children on Zoom.
These restrictions, plus the rigorous and frequent cleaning routines are “another planet” Sora admits, but the safety of staff and pupils is top priority.
While the school is ready to open, Covid-19 has delayed the arrival of outdoor play equipment.
Sora said: “Even if we had it, I’d put it in storage until we got used to the cleaning schedule for the equipment we already have. It needs to be wiped after every use and you can’t clean and watch the kids at the same time!”
Sora’s favourite piece of kit is the school’s hydrotherapy pool.
“It was my dream, top of my shopping list. Pupils had hydrotherapy, but not since Covid. It will benefit those with physical disabilities and autism, once we work out the cleaning routine.”
Also on Sora’s shopping list was a room with sensory integration equipment. With various seating and activity positions on a framework to balance young bodies, it makes pupils more receptive to learning. On that list too were bathrooms accessible for all, and a food tech room with height adjustable surfaces for wheelchair access, so older children can learn to cook and hone their independence and life skills.
Less evident but equally important were walls in calming, muted tones to support those with autism, and broad corridors. “Children with autism cannot cope in cramped spaces,” Sora explained.
There are raised planting areas ready for a sensory garden, horticulture beds for children to learn about growing and planting, and one of the school’s two lifts is big enough for a hospital bed so every child, regardless of the equipment they need, can move around freely.
Sora said: “This building is an amazing opportunity for the education of our students. Everyone has pulled together to make it happen. It has been a long haul, the work of two lifetimes!”