Griffith University is making an invaluable contribution to the social and educational engagement of some of Queensland’s most disadvantaged students.
After collaboration between Brisbane’s Mount Ommaney Special School, the not-for-profit group The Song Room and the Griffith Film School, the documentary Just Imagine is receiving international attention for its depiction of a school-community partnership using drama to empower students with disabilities.
Focusing on two students in particular, Clairdee and Bernard, Just Imagine also provides an insight into positive impacts beyond the classroom.
Mount Ommaney Education Program Officer, Mr Jim Green, said Just Imagine would inspire school leaders and teachers. It has already screened at four major conferences this year, as well as the Brazilian International Disability Film Festival in Rio de Janeiro and in Sao Paolo.
Filmed by Griffith Film School graduate and Griffith University Queensland College of Art lecturer Dr Peter Hegedus, Just Imagine demonstrates the merit of an innovative pedagogical model for special educators.
This model, created by The Song Room – a Victorian-based organisation that uses tailored, high-quality music and arts programs delivered in partnerships with schools throughout Australia – has enabled Mount Ommaney students, teachers and families to overcome significant challenges and achieve positive educational and social outcomes.
“The use of drama as a pedagogy is helping our students to communicate and connect at another level by working with them to imagine a story and make it real,” Mr Green said.
“Their responses vary. For some, focusing for 10 seconds is an amazing achievement. But no matter how long that focus lasts, the transformation is real. You see their curiosity and excitement and it is wonderful.
“In fact, since the program’s implementation in 2010, we have witnessed significant increases in class participation, concentration, enthusiasm for learning and self-expression.
“We have also been able to apply drama to teach a variety of subjects, including English, Maths, History, Science and Health and Physical Education.”
Just Imagine begins as The Song Room’s teaching artist, Ms Belinda Berrington, arrives at Mount Ommaney. Though she has only limited experience of students with disabilities, collaboration with school staff soon garners unexpected results.
Through interviews and actual lesson footage, Just Imagine shows the students engaging through storytelling and dramatic play. The more they are motivated to be creative and to connect with the world around them, the more this promotes their communicative and social development.
General teachers are also mentored by Ms Berrington to develop their skills and the confidence to create and deliver their own arts-based programs.
Subsequent lesson planning, based on the Alison Lester children’s book Imagine, culminates in the production of an end of year digital school performance before an audience of staff, students, families and community members.
As part of the Griffith Film School’s Community Engagement program, eight students are currently producing Mount Ommaney’s 2013 school performance, Fair Dinkum Histories.
For more information on The Song Room, go to www.songroom.org.au