Rachel Bradley and Elizabeth Manson form a duo that aims to make an impact on the education system. On the lawn of St Mark’s and St Andrew’s Presbyterian church in Palmerston North, lies the unassuming, prefabricated office building of SPELADD, an organisation committed to teaching and helping those with learning difficulties.
The pair warn that teachers across the country aren’t being given the skills needed to teach children with learning difficulties like ADHD and dyslexia. One incident observed by Rachel saw a teacher shouting at a student with ADHD. “The student couldn’t help bursting out because she hadn’t been helped, and the teacher was shouting at her in a voice that you wouldn’t use on your dog. It broke my heart,” says Rachel.
Manawatu schools are mostly highly cooperative in assisting SPELADD with these children; however, Rachel outlines that one school denied her services, free of charge, telling her that the teacher had the necessary skills to deal with it. “They think they know what they’re talking about, and they really don’t, it’s just stubborn,” says Rachel.
Rachel explains that one of the most rewarding aspects of the job is being able to resolve misunderstandings between children and teachers, “to show they’re not bad kids, and to show them how they can help,” says Rachel.
“It’s a human right to have access to education and in New Zealand we are supposed to have free education for all, but because of these children’s specific disabilities, they can’t access that education,” says Rachel.
For several years Rachel attempted to help a child with his spelling without success, “I caught up with him one day, and he told me that he was doing a course at UCOL. He said that he still couldn’t spell, but that I had helped him realise that it didn’t mean he was stupid. I thought I had failed this kid, it was a huge boost for me,” says Rachel.
Everybody’s different, the system doesn’t suit everyone; once you get into the real world, you can shine. Entrepreneurs, celebrities, all kinds of amazing people have learning difficulties.
Rachel’s goal for the next few years is to strengthen the organisation, training new staff as the organisation enters a transitional growth phase. “We are presently very limited and localised, and we want to get out there, and be more active,” says Rachel.
Elizabeth and Rachel rely on grants, donations and the fees collected from parents, explaining that they reject government funding as they feel the Government actually hinders them from helping these children. “The government didn’t even recognise dyslexia as a learning disability until 2007,” says Elizabeth.
Rachel describes the support of local business as invaluable. “It’s the people with passion who get behind it, because they know the struggle that these kids are going through,” says Bradley.