A dynamic duo leads with ability at Muswellbrook

On Wednesday 14 December 2016, Mary Ballard, along with the parents of 14 other school captain hopefuls, waited with bated breath as principal Niamh Marzol announced the St James’ Primary School, Muswellbrook, school leaders for 2017.

Mrs Ballard recalls the “gut wrenching” feeling in her stomach that all mothers have when their child really wants something and “you’ve prepared them for disappointment just in case”.

The first name is called, the engaging Georgia Dulley is announced as the first school captain. Mrs Ballard remembers looking across at her son Jake as he cheered on his friend. As Jake’s name was announced, his learning support officers Trish Howard and Melissa McLennan recall not being able to move.

The school hall filled with a ‘roar’ and clapping from students and parents in what Mrs Marzol describes as a “landslide victory”. Jake had been chosen by the students along with his close friend Georgia to lead St James’ into 2017.

Jake was born with Athetoid Cerebral Palsy and is non-verbal, communicating with classmates and teachers through the use of his Accent computer.  The device is run using Jake’s eyes to recognise symbols and using a voice generation technology to create speech through the computer. The device allows Jake to create speeches in advance, give answers and contribute to classroom discussion.

In 1998 Jake entered Kindergarten at St James’ and instantly everyone fell for this charismatic character. As I sit opposite Jake and Georgia, the giggling is infectious and it is not long before I too recognise why the students have chosen this pair as their leaders.

When asked to describe how she felt when her name was announced Georgia tells me she was “really nervous”. A great big grin spreads across her face when she continues, “and then Jake’s name was announced too”.

Jake and Georgia run the weekly school assemblies, lead school prayer and represent the school at formal events assisted by either of Jake’s support officers.

Mrs Ballard says they are incredibly lucky to have the support of long term friend, colleague and Jake’s number one fan, Trish Howard.

Mrs Howard remembers thinking when Jake started school, where she was teaching at the time, “Jake is a smart kid and I didn’t want him to ever miss out on anything.” So, Mrs Howard became his Learning Support Officer and has been with Jake for the past six years, enabling Jake to be part of activities such as horse riding and modified canoeing.

The teachers, support staff, students and parents of St James’ are not only proud of their current school captains but in awe of Jake’s resilience, determination and “rather sick sense of humour”.

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Amanda Skehan

Amanda Skehan was the Marketing Team Leader for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and a regular contributor to Aurora and mnnews.today.

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