Monday, 15th July 2024

Monday, 15th July 2024

Want waffles? Order them in sign language

12 Jun 2024

Guided by a simple need to fill the school canteen, Bedok South Secondary School partnered with charity organisation SPD to set up a stall selling fruits and snacks to its students. Find out how this stall creates an inclusive environment for students, including learning how to sign to place your order.  

By Arielene Wee

Walk into Bedok South Secondary School’s (BDS) canteen on any given day, and you will see a long line of students queueing up for fruits, frozen yogurt and waffles. Sometimes, you can even spot them communicating in sign language to get their orders across.  

This popular canteen stall is run by local disability-focused charity, SPD, and persons with disabilities (PwDs) from its Employment Support Programme.  

A sign at the front of the stall guides students on communicating in sign language.  

Providing opportunities for students to interact with PwDs  

This initiative began with a simple need to fill the school canteen. BDS had struggled to fill one of its canteen stalls for a long time, and staff had provided feedback that there was nowhere to get fruits in the canteen.  

Mr Daryl Koh, Principal at BDS, approached a contact at SPD, whose work includes setting up programmes to train and hire PwDs. Together, they came up with the idea of setting up a canteen stall selling fruits, managed by PwDs.   

“I saw this as a win-win opportunity,” Mr Koh shares. “By bringing them in, I’m helping to provide jobs and a livelihood for the PwDs. It also creates an environment where our students can see for themselves that PwDs are capable, and this helps to instil empathy in them. This is part of the school culture that I want to build, to develop ‘Grateful, Gracious, and Growth-minded BDSians’”.  

The stall started its operations in September 2023. “It’s very popular, the students love it. When they started selling frozen yogurt, everybody rushed to queue up!” quips Mr Koh.   

As one of the stall’s operators, Ms Jessica Wong, is deaf, students also make the effort to pick up simple sign language to communicate with her. Mr Lee Teck Sing, who is supervisor of the stall and known affectionately as Uncle Lee, says, “The students here are very empathetic and understanding of people with disabilities. They would ask me how to sign ‘Thank you’, then go on to sign to her after making their purchase.”  

Uncle Lee and Jessica, after the stall has sold out for the day. 

“The students here are very empathetic and understanding of people with disabilities. They would ask me how to sign ‘Thank you’, then go on to sign to her after making their purchase.” 

Uncle Lee, the stall’s supervisor, on how the students communicate with Jessica, the stall operator. 

Once a term, the stall also carries out activities to help educate the students on disabilities. These include giving out free watermelon juice to the first 20 students who can sign correctly, or to those who take part in a blindfolding contest to experience what visual impairment is like. “The students look forward to these activities every term, they will rush to participate in them!” says Mdm Liza Bte Ashari, HOD of Character and Citizenship Education (CCE).  

Students taking part in the stall’s activities. 

“School for the community, and community for the school”  

This school culture of inclusivity for people with special needs had stemmed much earlier. BDS provides full barrier-free access, and is one of three mainstream secondary schools that provides support for students with moderate to profound visual impairment. Roughly 13% of the school’s population consists of students with special educational needs, and its students are generally comfortable interacting with them.  

Mr Koh shares, “The caring and supportive environment that we have in the school is a strength that we want to build deeper. We want to teach our students to be grateful and gracious to others. No matter what level of education they have or what they have achieved in school, we want them to know that everyone can serve and contribute.”  

The PwDs that run the canteen stall all live within the Bedok area. “This is to benefit the PwDs that are part of this community. It is what I hope the school should be for the community, and the community should be for the school. Since our students are part of this community, they should learn to serve and give back to it. And the community can also come in to support their learning,” explains Mr Koh.  

The partnership with SPD has also sprouted into other programmes. Secondary Two and some Secondary Three students at BDS currently carry out their Values in Action (VIA) programme with one of SPD’s early intervention centres, SPD@Bedok, where they play and interact with children with developmental needs between two to six years old. The school is also organising a Sports Day for 200 children from SPD@Bedok and SPD@Tampines. By doing this, BDS students learn to serve and bring joy to the children in the community.  

Apart from SPD, BDS students also carry out a VIA programme at the Chee Hoon Kog Moral Home for the Aged Sick, which is just down the road from the school.  

“Such experiences provide authentic and immersive learning for our students. We often talk about civic literacy but how can we teach that? Nothing can beat having our students interact with disadvantaged people themselves, that’s how they can learn. I hope that in their four years here, these experiences will plant seeds of goodness in them so that they will leave the school ‘better than good’,” shares Mr Koh.  

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