Mrs Andie Fitzgerald, the newest staff member on the Primary Years campus of Santa Sabina, is no stranger to the Santa Sabina family. Her entire school life was spent at Santa, beginning at del Monte, and her mother, Mrs Gerry Locke, also worked for many years in del Monte administration.
Miss Andie, as she is known to the del Monte children, is the Learning Support Assistant in Kindergarten and Year 2. While fairly new to this type of work, supporting teachers and helping children with special needs, she says she loves it.
‘I love the kids, especially the little ones’, she says.
‘It’s such a joy to watch them learn, watch them explore and see them discover’.
When Miss Andie left school, she had no notion that she would ultimately step back into her old school, or any other, for work.
She trained as an occupational therapist and worked for several years in corporate settings. She managed the rehabilitation of injured workers and advised employers on managing injuries in terms of workers’ compensation and insurance.
After marriage and children of her own – she has three sons – her life changed tack and her skills in workplace safety were augmented with new training in learning support.
What prompted the career change? Two of Miss Andie’s children are on the autism spectrum.
The insights she has gained from mothering them has directed her back into the classroom where our youngest students with special needs enjoy her help one-on-one or in small groups. The classroom teacher plans the lessons and runs the classes, Miss Andie keeps her charges on task and helps them with their learning.
Her particular experience with autism in the family has made her realise the gifts that children with special needs can bring to the world.
‘No two children on the autism spectrum who I’ve met have been the same’, she says.
‘They blow your mind with how they think and problem-solve. My boys help me see life in a different way and have made me more open to difference.’
After only two weeks in Del Monte Miss Andie had already developed a strong rapport with the children of Kindergarten and Year 2.
And she is thrilled to be back in the place where she led such a happy childhood. Her strongest memory of school life is not of specific occasions but of a feeling from across all her days at school – ‘I loved school, I loved the community, I made life-long friends here’.
Miss Andie firmly believes in the power of diversity and the place in society for people who start out in life needing extra support.
‘It’s people who think outside the square who solve the world’s problems and find cures for diseases’, she says. ‘This is precisely because they think differently to what other people might consider as normal.’