A school teaching assistant has been recognised for going ‘above and beyond’ to support pupils with additional learning needs during the coronavirus pandemic.
Suzanne Allen, who works as an emotional language support assistant at Ysgol Gymraeg Caerffili, was nominated as part of Welsh Government’s Covid-19 Education Reassurance Campaign.
The campaign aims to highlight the positive work school teachers, dinner staff, carers and support staff have carried out during the pandemic, with nominations submitted by the public.
As part of her job, Suzanne, 47, supports vulnerable pupils by giving them one-on-one support both in and out of lesson time.
The first lockdown, which was introduced last March following the initial coronavirus outbreak, proved difficult for many of the pupils Suzanne works with.
One pupil in particular – ten-year-old Aaron Hackney – has autism, and relies on the structure of the school day.
During the first lockdown, Aaron attended a school hub, which was set up for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.
However, with new teachers and classmates, Aaron struggled to adapt, which affected his behaviour. As online learning came into play, Suzanne feared it would make Aaron’ situation worse – so she made it her mission to make sure he continued to get the face-to-face support he needed.
Suzanne, who is from Caerphilly and has worked at the school for 17 years, said: “The children I work with rely on their routine and when the first lockdown announcement was made their world got thrown into turmoil.
“It takes time for Aaron to build his trust as he is a selective mute. Even though online learning was running smoothly for other pupils, Aaron struggled to hold his attention and to engage in conversations.
“I decided that I was going to do all I can to make sure Aaron got the support he needed. Aaron loves to high-five and that is his way of communicating, so I started by going to his house every Monday morning and standing outside the window where we’d high five through the glass.”
Suzanne continued to visit Aaron throughout the summer holidays.
She added: “When I first started to see Aaron, he was completely mute. As his trust grew, so did his confidence and by the end of the school term he had started to talk to me.
“When we returned to school after the summer holidays, I met Aaron at the school gates as I knew he’d be nervous about his routine changing again, but eager to get back to school.
“I’ve met Aaron every morning at the school gates since.”
Aaron’s mother, Rhiannon Elliot, said: “Routine is paramount to Aaron’s wellbeing.
“Mrs Allen knew this and didn’t want to stop making progress with Aaron ahead of him returning to school in September, so she came over to see Aaron during school holidays; going out of her way to make him happy.
“She is a selfless, kind human being who has made the world of difference to Aaron.”
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Meanwhile, Gwyn and Rebecca Leeds, who are parents at Ysgol Gymraeg Caerffili, said: “Our two younger children have additional needs and it’s been an incredibly difficult time for us as a family.
“We struggle to meet the demands of home schooling whilst continuing to reassure our anxious children that depend on structure.
“Mrs Allen has provided invaluable, individually tailored support to us by visiting our home every week and saying hello from a social distance.
“Our children look forward to her visits – it keeps them going. It’s a great reassurance for us that during this difficult time of readjustment, our youngest daughter will be able to count on Mrs Allen to support her when she goes back to school.”
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