Schooling plays a big role in shaping a child’s life. The moment a child is born, the parents will hunt down the best school in town. However, for a parent with a special child, it is no less than a tragedy looking for a school, let alone the best one in town.
22 years ago in Cuenca, Ecuador, there was a growing need for an institution that would help children with special needs get an education. At that time, Centro Educativo NOVA, a non-profit organization and a pioneer in inclusive education, was born.
At NOVA, there is no separation between regular children and children with special needs. This helps the children to grow mentally and physically by breaking all barriers and ensuring that no one gets left out.
The most important factor that this school believes will help children overcome their disabilities and uneasiness in society is one of the simplest things out there—feeling loved. The moment a child feels left out, be it for their race, nationality, or disability, they start to close themselves off. NOVA starts by changing this one action by having all the kids perform activities together and learning to love to each other’s differences.
Photos from Centro Educativo NOVA
Basic education is covered in NOVA like all other schools. To make it more interactive and exciting for children, they also offer other classes and therapies complimenting each student’s requirements. Horse therapy, language therapy, martial arts classes, and swimming lessons are some of the activities and lessons they provide. All these extracurricular activities have one goal which is to let the students enjoy while learning and being comfortable in their own skin.
NOVA understands that inclusion comes from a change in behaviour and attitude. To make sure that the children get a round treatment and service from the school, it does not only hire professional teachers, but ensure that all employees are devoted to helping children reach stability. Services from therapists and doctors are also provided for the children that need them.
Daily classes are held in a room with one teacher for each subject. This comes off as new to special children who are used to being in separated spaces. Here, they are on level ground as everyone else which is the way it is supposed to be. Observance of regular curriculums is not as intensified. Instead, focus is given to how each student acts and behaves towards a particular subject.
Photo from Centro Educativo NOVA
Nothing great ever came that easy and neither did NOVA. Being a pioneer, NOVA had their share of challenges along the way which they had to overcome.
Parents of regular students were one of the biggest problems. A common scenario is that these parents want the children needing special attention to be separated thinking that their own children’s learning will be affected. Parents initially find inclusion to be an obstacle but the children themselves do not. Put in the same room, children treat each other equally, help each other, and build friendships from the heart.
Another challenge was that school resources were tough to get a hold of. Those who need special attention could not cope with regular materials, and customized ones were not fully available in Cuenca. This pushed teachers to be creative and design their resources on their own.
Finding a team who is willing to give it their all for a bunch of kids and their futures was hard at first. However, over the years, NOVA has grown into a family of professionals who willingly devote their time and skills to aid children in need.
Being a non-profit organization has proven to be a bigger challenge as well. No matter what part of the world, education for special children is a tough decision for families because of the expenses. NOVA has two sources of income which are the families who can pay for the services, and their other affiliations. They work with government institutions and have other alliances which allow them to provide services at rates everyone can afford. Their sponsorship programmes cover costs of education, uniforms and other school supplies for those who cannot afford the regular prices.
Photo from Centro Educativo NOVA
In two decades, NOVA has had an increase in students thanks to the community and the people supporting it. What started with only 10 students has grown into a community of more than a hundred, with a quarter of them being children with special needs.
NOVA dreams to have its own spaces and buildings in the future which will allow it to grow and spread out further. Having an experience of more than two decades and an immense dedication earned them a name.
They also hope that as time passes, people will accept the idea of inclusion and understand its importance in modern society. With the help of families, teachers and students, the idea of an integrated learning system can be spread which can create a future that furthers equal rights in education.
Hearts of Gold is a registered Ecuadorian nonprofit that works to boost the capacities of local nonprofits so that they can reach their unique goals. Through a series of capacity building workshops, community dialogues, and mentorship hours, they work side by side with nonprofit leaders – the real changemakers – to help them embrace their strengths, target areas of weakness, and thrive in their long-term services to populations in need.