THE BEGINNING CHELSEA
In the summer of 1997 The Chelsea Group of Children was established in a converted garage. We began with three students and in a month there were five. By the end of the first year ten boys and girls were taught in two large rooms by an inspired teacher who created experiential and therapeutic learning for the whole child. Chelsea Group served those children who did not fit comfortably or happily into mainstream and were without the label of any diagnosis; only the need for a different presentation of a more dynamic curricula.
Our school was small, eccentric and free to build a child centered program of comprehensive and adaptive teaching. This was our core; the seed from which we grew to become highly specialized expanding to forty students and 34 teaching and therapy staff.
The environment remains unique, our purpose to know the student and to do this we must enable the child to emerge from fear and allow us to understand the whole individual.
After ten years and a honing of purpose in educating children with more complex needs, we moved to a house at the gates of a beautiful cemetery. There were more rooms for therapy and a large garden for planting, digging and all manner of discoveries. In three years we needed more rooms, for both occupational and speech and language therapy were informing every aspect of our program. From the very beginning we established five as the maximum number of students in a classroom; more children would always require more rooms.
In 2011 we moved to a large church hall and redesigned and rebuilt the interior to make four therapy rooms and six classrooms plus a large hall for dining and a library. In this, as in all our buildings, the decor is more like home than school. We avoid the institutional and create, instead, a soft space of wood and textiles and art; surprising and perhaps reassuring the new student.
Immediately the child understands ‘this place is different’, and perhaps he or she can dare to hope for a fresh start. Most of our students come to us from an unsuccessful mainstream experience, failing academically or socially even as young as four. Some children have withdrawn while others developed highly effective strategies of avoidance but in almost every case school has not been a happy place