Hannah, 13, has Down syndrome and she, along with mum Jackie Hayes, were guest presenters at the Canberra conference.
“I was a bit nervous,” the Year 7 student at Immaculate Heart of Mary School told The Southern Cross during a break in an after-school-care game of dodge ball.
But once the butterflies settled Hannah was able to talk about her role of being a buddy to a reception student at IHM, her inclusion in “everything” at school and her extra-curricular activities such as drama. She also spoke of how proud she felt when she was voted a House Captain by her peers this year.
“Although I’m not so happy because we didn’t win (at sports day),” she said.
Attended by principals, teachers, support workers and families, the conference was an opportunity to share ideas about learning and life experiences for students with disability.
“We spoke of Hannah living a typical life and the responses from those at the conference were very positive,” Jackie said.
The mum-of-three admitted that when Hannah was born and Down syndrome was confirmed, she “felt sad” because of the things she might miss out on in life, such as travel and marriage.
“But then I gave a stern talking to myself and thought if I am limiting her, then others will also limit her and not see her potential. So I have always tried to ensure she is treated just like any other child.”
Jackie said she encouraged Hannah to participate in the same activities as her younger siblings Mathew, 12 and Charlotte, 9.
“We attended mainstream mums and babies, swimming lessons, kindy and now school.”
When the search for a school began Jackie and Hannah’s dad Craig Beard were drawn to IHM.
“At the time they said they thought it would be a privilege to have Hannah at the school because the other students would learn so much from her.
“And they have. They’ve learnt things like diversity, they’ve learnt that Hannah has got strengths, likes and dislikes just like everyone else. The kids have also learnt empathy and patience and have enjoyed celebrating her achievements.”
Jackie added that some of their presentation to the conference focused on changes needed now that Hannah is a teenager.
“It’s all about letting go a bit now…but she says, don’t worry mum, I can look after myself, you can trust me. It’s knowing she is very capable and you don’t want to put her in cotton wool.”
IHM assistant principal Lisa McCormick described Hannah as a “true gift” to the school community.
“She has made many achievements, but this (speaking at the conference) is something that is a wonderful opportunity.”
Lisa said IHM’s vision for every child was to provide “an inspiring learning community where every child can flourish”.
“Hannah’s inclusive curriculum is the vision in action. As a school focused on the MSC tradition of heart spirituality, we ensure that love, hope, justice and connectedness are at the forefront of all our decisions.
“This year we focus on ‘connectedness’ and the scripture we have chosen is ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’, John 15: 5. Hannah’s family and school working together in partnership are like the branches and Hannah is the ‘fruit’.
“We are all so grateful to have Hannah and her family as part of our IHM community,” she said.
Organised by change agency advocacy group Imagine More, the two-day National Inclusion Conference featured speakers from throughout Australia who shared stories and approaches of how a clear vision and self-direction can lead to meaningful and inclusive lives for people with disabilities.
Through the conference, principals and teachers were able to gain a deeper understanding of differentiating curriculum and allowing for a wide range of learning styles and abilities in the classroom. Support workers were encouraged to focus on the strengths and interests of the person they support to foster independence and help them reach their potential.Jump to next article