First week in Ortaca

Tell me a Tale in Turkey 2011 has begun!  After months of planning, the project started at a special needs school in Ortaca (Ortaca Coşku Özel Eğitim Okul) in the Muğla province of western Turkey.

I previously did a 2 week storytelling residency at this school in October 2008 with Light and Colour workshops and was keen to revisit the school as the project was so well received before.  Back in 2008 we worked with the same ten children for 2 weeks leading up to a performance and I had imagined that we would be doing something similar.  At that time however the school was recognised as a ‘school’ by the government but it is now recognised as a ‘rehabilitation centre’. What this means is that there are no longer children who are at the school for the entire school week.  The children who are at the school are assessed by the government who then decide how many hours a specific child needs to attend the school per month based on their needs (the maximum is 12 hours per month). The government then pays the school dependent on the hours that they have assessed that the children need.  The children’s needs range from very mild learning difficulties (struggling with reading, writing, learning days of the week etc) to profound and multiple learning difficulties.  To continue to receive funding from the government each child need to be assessed every year and if they are not assessed they are not able to go to the school.  Most of the children then go to government mainstream schools for the remainder of their education.  The mainstream schools differ widely and every class has 30 children and 1 teacher with no additional support (no teaching assistants).  The education that the children will receive is varied on which school they live close to.  There are over 300 children at this special school in Ortaca and they come from different towns and villages that surround the area.  In the entire area there are only two mainstream government schools that have a teacher for children with special needs and there is one government special needs school (which I hope to visit next week) where some of the children from our school go to for their remaining school hours.  Ultimately which other school they attend depends on their location and transportation resources.  Our school is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm.  Being open past 3pm and on a Saturday means that children with mild learning difficulties are able to attend all the usual hours of their mainstream school and attend this school as additional support.

In Turkey it is not a requirement for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties to go to school.  Usually children up to the age of 14 have to go to school by law but children can be assessed by the government to say that they do not have to go to school if their needs are deemed profound enough.  So all the education they get is the 12 hours a month that the government has paid for.  Some of the children at the school simply would not be able to be in a mainstream class without one to one support.  What families can do is to pay the school on top of the hours that the government has provided- though there are obviously many families who are unable to afford this.  The system is therefore complex and full of inequalities (like many systems).  I would also like to add here that although I keep using the word ‘children’ there are several mature students in their 20’s and 30’s (who also attend our workshops) who are students at the school.  As long as the government gives them the green light on their assessment to attend the school they are able to.

At Ortaca Coşku Özel Eğitim Okul the children receive both group lessons and one to one lessons.  The school was founded by two physiotherapists and therefore has a strong physiotherapy backbone with treatment available for children who attend the school as well as several other therapies including Sensory Integration Therapy.  Coming from a sensory theatre background I find this therapy very interesting and hope to observe some of the one to one sessions later next week.

I’ve spoken a lot about the school and the system here but the way the school functions has had a big impact on the work that we have been able to do. We are only able to work with students for a short period of time as they come to our workshops during when their group session would usually be so this is usually one or two hours in the week.  Next week we will work with some children we have already seen and also children who we haven’t worked with so far. We are working towards a performance which is next Friday about the seasons (a story based loosely on our recent sensory theatre tour of SEASONS in Devon).  We develop new ideas of what to include in the performance from the students so we spend the workshops exploring the seasons through sensory stimuli, movement, poems, art, music and songs.  Many of the children who attend our workshops will not be able to attend the final performance due to transport restrictions or family circumstances but we are still trying to include their ideas in our performance.  We work between 9am and 6pm and have a new group of children every hour (the groups differ between 1-6 pupils) and within our first week we have worked with over 60 students. Next week we hope to have a list of children who will be able to participate in the final performance although we wont know for sure until the performance itself. In some ways working with so many children for such few hours working towards a performance has been a huge challenge.  At the same time it has meant that we have been able to give a larger number of children a new experience and it has kept us on our toes as we explore the same idea with all the children and we wont know until the last moment whether they will be in the final show!

On Friday we also ran a workshop for the teachers on how to use storytelling techniques along with sensory stimuli.  It was a stretch for my Turkish but I got through it and the teachers seemed very excited by the different sensory props that we brought over from the UK.  Next week we will be running a workshop on how to use storytelling in their sensory room.  The first week has been exhausting yet exhilarating and inspiring.  The school staff have been so supportive of our work which helps a great deal.  I have also been lucky to have been joined by a wonderful student volunteer, Gizem Yılmaz, a second year drama student from Maltepe Univerity in Istanbul.  All in all the project has started with a bang and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next week brings…

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