Education Re-imagined | Jill Healey

22 February 2023

We know that since the beginning of Christian schooling in Australia, individual Christian Schools have genuinely sought to serve the needs of students with disabilities, but historically, resources were indeed limited.  It was financially challenging for schools to respond adequately to the high level of educational adjustment needed for some young people to learn effectively.  Sadly, this resulted in the exclusion of many disabled students from Christian education.  Siblings of families were separated, leaving parents to explain why their child was not able to attend the same school as their siblings. 

Successful lobbying of governments at Commonwealth and State level for decades resulted in the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data (NCCD) and a fundamental change to how students with disabilities were funded.  This presented an opportunity to reimagine inclusive education, specifically designed to meet the learning needs of a wide range of abilities.

In Luke 14, Jesus sets the bar very high; he challenges us to accommodate the poor and disabled people first.

“Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14

The SPARC story tells how Waverley Christian College in Victoria courageously reimagined inclusive education to accommodate the needs of some of the most marginalised secondary students in their community.  The Head of Secondary, Stephan Munyard attended a CSA Principals and Board Members dinner in 2019 and heard about various initiatives to develop appropriate learning environments for small numbers of high needs students within a mainstream school; the concept of a ‘school within a school’.

Waverley Christian College had several secondary students requiring high levels of curriculum adjustment. This sparked the imagination of Mr Munyard and his leadership team!  The NCCD funding had changed the landscape presenting more opportunities to design a different model of education that will meet the learning needs of a wide range of abilities.  Mr Munyard, together with Mrs Vilma Cardenas (LEAPS Coordinator) and Nicole Rietveld (Director of Teaching and Learning) undertook further research to find out what was happening in other schools. A proposal was prepared and presented to the Executive Principal, Mr Peter Sheahan and Campus Principal, Mr Mark Crncovik and the rest is history.

In 2020, SPARC (Supported Program of Applied Readiness for Community) was launched with 6 students (Years 8-11). Students participated as a small class in Literacy, Numeracy, Integrated Studies, Practical Skills, Food Studies, Textiles and Information Technology, while integrating with mainstream students in Physical Education, House events, camps, excursions and various lunchtime clubs. Initially, SPARC catered for students with autism and children with other significant learning challenges, but as the program took shape, the school has provided more clarity around the parameters for eligibility.

Embracing the Program

The parents of SPARC students have embraced the program with excitement and enthusiasm because they highly valued the Christian values, ethos and community of Waverley Christian College and the amazing level of learning taking place.  SPARC students feel connected to their community because their program is integrated with mainstream students, classes, school activities, shared breaktimes and school facilities. The students learn appropriate social behaviours by observing behavioural norms. Integration is often student specific, but the more students have opportunities to engage with their peers, the more prepared they will be for life beyond school.

SPARC is an evolving program in consultation with teachers, learning support assistants, parents and allied health therapists. In many situations learning is by trial and error and the program will continue to evolve and adapt as needed to ensure that each student is given the most appropriate support.  Independent Learning Plans are developed for each student and the goals are considered and incorporated into the learning program.

The SPARC Café - an inspiring success!

Early in 2022, students completed a barista course and began operating a barista machine in the staff room providing all types of specialty coffees and tea – much to the delight of the recipients.  By mid-year, every Wednesday, the students were operating a café providing toasties, pastry snacks, fudge smudgy cookies and all sorts of hot drinks for Staff and Year 12 Students.  Initially, fake money was used to purchase food and drinks, but by Term 4, the level of service and standard of produce warranted the use of real money.

The success of the SPARC café is the result of the strategic design of the Café initiative around staged methodology that allows each student to become increasingly more independent.   The students have implemented a system similar to that found in a working café which includes: taking orders from customers, food and drink preparation, cooking, serving and cleaning up.   By recognising what each student is capable of achieving, Mrs Boon (Learning Support Assistant) and Mrs Cardenas assigned specific roles to individual students of varying complexity according to their capacity.   Students were provided with role descriptions and continued with one task or a series of tasks for one full Term before changing to a different role within the café. This repetition enabled consolidation of skills which proved to be a very effective method of learning.   Sometimes students become stressed or overwhelmed by their task, but teachers used these opportunities to teach regulation and students were appropriately supported.

Mrs Boon is very organised and dedicated to ensuring that students are equipped and supported in their roles. She is willing to follow through and implement recommendations made by allied health professionals.  Each Wednesday when the café is open for staff, the students continue to be supported, but once they have finished serving customers, they serve the SPARC staff without assistance.  The level of sophistication of the café will continue to progress as the students’ level of confidence and competence increases.

Now in Term 4, Students are running a café for staff and Year 12 students every Wednesday.

But that's not all...

The SPARC staff organised a 3 day Independence Camp where students were required to learn and practise all the skills required to live in a home by themselves – washing, cleaning, cooking, serving etc.  The camp was a fabulous success and students are still talking about it.

It had always been a priority for the school to provide Christian education for students with additional needs and an informal Secondary school program was already in place for students who had graduated from Primary. However, a number of significant factors occurred simultaneously leading to the emergence of SPARC and it was evident that God was bringing the team together to serve these precious young people in a new and creative learning environment.   

Three years into the program, Mrs Cardenas and her team continue to imagine future possibilities, which could include a SPARC Junior Secondary program focused specifically on functional literacy and numeracy skills and a SPARC Senior Secondary program focused on acquiring and practising work-related and personal development skills. Mrs Cardenas dreams of a large vegetable garden where students can grow produce for the school community... Perhaps one day, students will have their own Farmers’ Market in addition to the café. Possibilities are only limited by the imagination.

The success of SPARC is undoubtedly a reflection of the belief that each person has been uniquely created in the image God and a deep commitment from school leaders and SPARC staff to design an educational program to meet the needs of this marginalised group of young people.

I hope and pray that by sharing this story, other educators will be inspired and encouraged to imagine and create curriculum that inspires learning by recognising and approaching people with disabilities as unique image bearers of God. 

Catch up on our latest blog posts and articles:

~/images/resources/blogs/2023/blog image.png

The Golden Goose of School Marketing? | Dianne Fraser


Word-of-Mouth (WOM) advertising is one of the oldest and most effective forms of marketing and is renowned for the incredible power it holds in the decision-making process...

The Golden Goose of School Marketing? | Dianne Fraser
~/images/resources/briefings/briefing_images/briefing tile 4.jpg

Queensland Non-state School Framework Review Submission


CSA has lodged a submission on behalf of member schools to the Queensland Non-State Schools Accreditation Framework Review.

Queensland Non-state School Framework Review Submission

2023 Federal Budget Update


The 2023 Federal Budget release, and what it means for Christian Schools, is considered in this briefing document.

2023 Federal Budget Update

Related Party Transactions Reporting


The ACNC has reported that 'From the 2023 Annual Information Statement (AIS), all charities except for Basic Religious Charities will be asked to report their related party transactions to the ACNC, due to changes announced in November 2021.'

Related Party Transactions Reporting