June 4, 2014 5:10 pm

Mackay Centre School struggles to find more space and services

MONTREAL – The Mackay Centre School, the only English institution of its kind in Quebec, is in desperate need of help. Students with severe disabilities, as well as staff members and parents, have been waiting for more than three years for more space and better services. But with the recent changes in government, many feel their demands are falling on deaf ears.

Parents of students at the Mackay Centre will tell you it’s the little school that could.

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“It’s everything! I don’t know how she would learn if she was anywhere else,” said Rebecca Spagnolo. Her six-year old daughter Olivia has come a long way since she started pre-kindergarten at the MacKay school Centre.

“She’s very social but her communication was a hinder and now she has great friends. I mean, she has a best friend so all the things you expect for a child, she can have at this school,” said Spagnolo.

“Some people dream of winning the lottery, for us it was getting in this school.”

The Mackay Centre School is a second home for more than one hundred students, some with severe disabilities. Children come from across Quebec to attend the reputable school.

“Mackay Centre School services children with communication disorders, physical disabilities, and children who are deaf,” said the school’s principal Patrizia Ciccarelli.

The problem is, the school is set to welcome another 40 students from Philip E Layton, its sister school for the blind, leaving less space for the students at MacKay – many who are wheelchair bound and need room to manoeuvre. It will also affect specialized services like hydrotherapy, in the specially-adapted pool on site.

“In the short term, it’s space. In the long term, we need the government to buy a facility for us,” said Ciccarelli, who is sacrificing her office along with her secretary’s in order to make room for another classroom.

The centre has been pleading with the government for more space since 2011. Teachers and students teamed up to make a video to raise awareness along with a petition calling for change.

But Quebec’s education minister said he had not yet heard about the initiative when he spoke to Global News at the National Assembly.

“I haven’t seen the video and petition, but I’m gonna ask to have the information and maybe we can speak about that in the coming days,” said Education Minister Yves Bolduc.

But many parents wonder why the government is turning a blind eye.

“We’re starting to wonder if the government is deaf and blind and disabled because they don’t see what’s going on. They don’t hear us. They’re doing nothing,” said Joanne Charron-Yannakis, whose 17-year-old son Nico who has attended the school since he was a child.

“He’s a quadriplegic, totally dependant and non-verbal and he can swim. He’s participated in défi-sportif and even won a silver and bronze!”

Teachers are also joining forces and wondering why their vulnerable students aren’t a bigger priority for the government.

“Our needs are pressing and it’s time that children have the sort of school environment that they deserve – one that is up to fate with the technologies available to them,” said grade 2 teacher Kathleen Timney.

Thirteen-year old student Daniel Hould, who helped make the video, says the best part about his school is the comfortable learning environment.

“We do sports, we do défi-sportif, but we also do classes as well,” said Hould with a smirk.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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