Building a bridge to a great start to school


Preps enter the gates of their new school dressed in the same uniform and they’re about the same age. However, scan their little faces and it is clear each child is feeling different things about school.

Villa Maria Catholic Homes’ specialist school, St Paul’s College, is no exception and its prep grade, called the Bridging Program, recognises and supports the different strengths, interests and dreams of each student and their family.

Ten preps are part of the innovative Bridging Program this year. It provides preps with additional needs a gradual transition into mainstream school. They attend St Paul’s three days a week where they benefit from small class sizes, support from allied health professionals and specialist teachers. They also attend the mainstream school of their choice for the other two days.

Parent, Gabrielle, says her family chose the Bridging Program for their six-year-old son Jack this year to give him the best chance to attend his local primary school fulltime eventually.

“We wanted to set Jack up for success in mainstream schooling by being able to teach him the fundamentals of turn-taking, sitting in a group without getting distracted, correct social behaviours and general school routine,” Gabrielle said.

Jack is an adorable six-year-old who has Autism Spectrum Disorder and loves all things on wheels, playing at the park and riding his bike. He started prep with nine other students in the program at the beginning of this year.

“We love that there isn’t the mainstream pressure on Jack to write his name, read, and draw at this stage. These are all the things that he struggles with and in a classroom of 18 he would get a bit lost and potentially go backwards,” Gabrielle said.

Bridging Program teacher, Gillian Bryan, says Jack and his classmates benefit from a smaller class size, a play-based teaching approach and the program covers the Victorian Curriculum with modifications where necessary.

“It’s very much the same structure of a prep grade. We make reasonable adjustments to the individual children’s requirements,” she said.

Gillian and her team also regularly visit Jack’s mainstream school to support his transition. This can include everything from providing practical resources, sharing their expertise with teachers at the mainstream school and offering tips to adjust the curriculum where needed.

For more information about St Paul’s College’s Bridging Program and their other specialist education programs contact Principal Timothy Hemphill on 9855 7700 or email