Alan Lachman and his wife were dismayed when the only Victorian school for the blind closed its doors in 2009. Their daughter Francesca, who is blind, was eight years old at the time.
Alan explained his interest in Francesca attending school, saying
we wanted her to do so, with an ability to succeed.
Soon after the closure, Alan realised many other families were in a similar position.
It was no longer just about Francesca, but about all blind and vision-impaired students in Victoria, he says. So Alan made the bold decision to create a new school, founding Insight Education Centre for the Blind and Vision-impaired.
Initially, Alan hoped Insight would be up and running in a few months. He soon discovered, however, that he had underestimated the time and complexity involved in setting up such an ambitious project.
Sometimes taking longer is a good thing, says Alan.
Because more effort is put in, to make sure that we get it right.
To run Insight, Alan and his team needed funding. They approached influential people, trusted foundations and politicians.
It was important for us to articulate the need for Insight and why people should support it. People need to know that the project is going to have a widespread effect and that it's going to be around for a long time.
Alan was also surprised by the difficulty he experienced in getting parents on board with the idea of Insight.
A difficult issue to grasp is getting parents engaged, he says.
It surprised me that parents are often hesitant. They think a specialist school is a 'special' school for kids who have an intellectual disability.
Insight finally opened its doors to students in March this year. It is located on the Monash University, Berwick Campus site, in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
Engaging Monash has taken nearly two years, admits Alan.
But the benefit of that time-frame is that a lot more people in Monash University have become involved.
What is Insight about?
At the core of Insight's educational model is the Specialist Primary School, which will open in term one 2013. Additional services on offer will include curriculum coaching for secondary students, an early learning program for zero to six year olds, life transition and parent support programs as well as professional training for teachers.
Since March 2012, students have been attending Insight one or two days a week for both academic and life-skills work.
It's going great, reports Alan.
We're beginning the process of helping students to be more capable and to feel more confident.
Alan explains that Insight has an educational model that works alongside, and is complimentary to, other kinds of education.
Insight will provide specialist training for our students, just like you train an athlete to go to the Olympics. Our students will gain the skills to be self-confident and independent, so that when they eventually leave the 'nest', they'll have the best possible chance of reaching their full potential.
Insight's goal is to service children all over Victoria. For students who attend a conventional school and are unable to come to Berwick, Insight will go to them through the use of portable classrooms.
Who can enrol?
Insight welcomes all blind and vision-impaired children who can participate in the core academic curriculum.
The aim is not to exclude, but to include those who would otherwise be marginalised, says Alan.
Insight is a fee-paying school but students can apply for scholarships to help pay for their tuition. Alan firmly believes that families shouldn't be excluded on the basis of financial hardship.
Kay Berry is the Principal of Insight. She works closely with teachers to discuss strategies for educating students who are blind or have a vision-impairment.
We want Insight to be a major player in educational services, says Kay.
I've been teaching people with vision impairment for 25 years and I'm still learning today. The best proof that Insight is working will be the students themselves.
For more information on Insight, visit www.insightvision.com.au