23 May 2024

Canberra's special-needs school celebrates 50 years, in the best way possible

| James Coleman
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Such fun! Photo: Bricks at The Woden School, Facebook.

Canberra’s special-needs high school is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and marking the occasion in the best possible way. With LEGO. Lots of LEGO.

‘Bricks @ The Woden School’ will deck the campus halls with all manner of impressive LEGO displays and dioramas from 66 exhibitors, as well as Star Wars cosplayers and even a room where attendees can try their hand at making their own LEGO creations.

The annual event, organised by the Canberra LEGO User Group, brings in welcome funds for the school.

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The Woden School might receive the bulk of its support from the taxpayer as a government-funded public school, but everything costs more when you’re catering to special needs, as Gillian Bradford from the Woden School’s Parents and Citizen’s Association explains.

“In a normal school, playground equipment is expensive, but at a special-needs school, double it,” she says.

“Because you don’t just need a swing, you need a special swing, with a harness and a high back. Everything you might want to invest in, even books for the library, everything is more expensive.”

Just one of the impressive LEGO dioramas made by AFOLs (adult fans of LEGO). Photo: Bricks at The Woden School, Facebook.

Gillian says the LEGO show helps speed up the process and is a “no-brainer for us”.

Ticket sales and funds raised from the sausage sizzle and cake and coffee stalls bring in an average of $15,000 to $20,000 every year. Last year, this was enough to fund a glasshouse for the school, where the kids could learn how to grow their own plants.

But there’s another reason the P&C loves the event.

Gillian’s son Lachie Bradford, aged 13, has only just started at the Woden School in Year 7. Like most of his classmates, he attended Malkara from pre-school to Year 6 before this.

Both were established in 1974 as schools with a “unique supported high school program to eligible students who meet the ACT Disability Criteria”, according to the ACT Government.

There’ll be cosplayers doing the rounds, too. Photo: The Woden School, Facebook.

“This includes students who have an intellectual disability which may be accompanied by a range of medical conditions, or additional sensory, physical or behavioural disabilities,” the school website reads.

“Small class sizes ensure that students receive a high level of individual instruction.”

There are currently 97 students enrolled with moderate to profound disabilities, primarily intellectual.

“It presents itself as developmental delay – that’s what all the kids at the school have in common and why they need special attention from teachers and support assistants,” Gillian says.

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Lachie, for one, has ‘complex epilepsy syndrome’, which made itself known from birth when he would have between 50 and 100 seizures a day. After a particularly bad episode while on a flight, he was taken to Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney for brain surgery, aged one.

The seizures have dropped to around five per week, but the damage is done. He’s largely nonverbal and wheelchair-bound.

Gillian says the LEGO show is an opportunity for students like Lachie to interact with the community and vice versa.

Gillian and Lachlan Bradford. Photo: Gillian Bradford.

“When you’re starting a family, you don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m going to send my kids to a special-needs school’. But if that’s what the universe has in store for you, boy, you’re glad you’ve got a fabulous facility like this.

“And kids with a disability shouldn’t be kept in a corner – they should be interacting with the broader community every day.”

Lachie, for one, is looking forward to it.

“Even though he can walk a bit, I’ll get him around there in a wheelchair, just to have a look at it all and have a sausage sizzle,” Gillian says.

Bricks @ The Woden School will be held from 9 am to 4 pm, Saturday, 25 May, and from 9 am to 2 pm, Sunday, 26 May. Entry costs $5 for a child, $10 for an adult and $20 for a family. Buy tickets online or at the gates.

Visit The Woden School website for more information.

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