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How a mother from Jamaica offers autistic pupils hope


Sherene Powell-Okafor

Sherene Powell-Okafor

Sherene Powell-Okafor

A Jamaican teacher who founded a Montessori school in Dublin for her autistic daughter is bringing a new diversity to Irish primary education.

A recently established education organisation, Scoil Sinéad Ltd, has been awarded patronage of one of four new primary schools.

They will open in 2017 and 2018, Education Minister Richard Bruton has announced.

Scoil Sinéad is promising a different approach to the integration of children with autism and special needs, and will be established in the Pelletstown-Ashtown area of Dublin.

Sherene Powell-Okafor, who arrived in Ireland in 2000, is a director of Scoil Sinéad, which is named after her 10-year-old daughter.

Ms Powell-Okafor described the awarding of the patronage to Scoil Sinéad for a primary schools as a "great step" for her team.

She is also founder and CEO of Hope Montessori Autism Care Centre, from which the patron body has grown.

The first Hope centre, which was established in Dublin 15 in 2011, was planned for Sinead, but, by the time it opened, she had already settled into a nearby primary school.

Hope now has three centres in Dublin, one in Limerick and will be opening one in Cork in June.

A primary teacher by training, Ms Powell-Okafor has also completed a degree in psychology, a masters in applied behaviour analysis and is studying Irish so that she can gain Teaching Council recognition.

Her husband, Dr Ikechukwu Okafor, an accident and emergency consultant in Temple Street Children's Hospital, is also among the Scoil Sinéad directors.

In recent months, Scoil Sinéad was named as a joint trustee of a new second-level school opening in Lucan, in a partnership with Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board.

Meanwhile, Educate Together is being awarded patronage of two schools, one in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, and one in Dublin 2.

The Irish-language patron body An Foras Pátrúnachta will be patron of a new school in Ballincollig, Cork. When fully developed, the schools will cater for more than 1,700 primary pupils.

Applications for patronage of new schools is assessed by an independent body, which makes recommendations to the Education Minister.

As well as parental preferences, medium of education and ethos, and how well these needs are being served in the community, are considered.

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