Lola's Blog

Lolas Blog

Disabling the Myths

Going to college can be daunting for most people, but it may be even more so if you are a young person living with a disability.

So, we wanted to provide you with an insight into the support we can offer you through the eyes of one of our students.

Lola Ellen* studied business at Chichester College, while also living with a lifelong condition which means she needs some extra support. She’s been keeping a regular blog, looking at her experiences, achievements and the challenges she’s faced.

She’ll be updating her pages every month, so make sure you check back regularly for the latest entry.
Lola Ellen's Blog

March 2021

My name is Lola Ellen. I’m writing this blog to share my story and to help empower other people to overcome their challenges. Writing and sharing my thoughts helps me to overcome difficulty so I thought sharing might be helpful to others too.

I studied at Chichester for three years from age 18. I had attended three schools and lived in both the South and North of England before joining the college. I chose Chichester because it was inclusive and it offered the course I wanted to study.

I have a lifelong condition but I don’t let it stop me. I suppose you could say I am quite a determined person. The thing is I don’t want to change myself, I have always felt this way since I was a young child, in fact I didn’t even notice my disability very much until I was older, it has always been part of me.

My disability and the challenges I get round day to day are a big part of who I am, but I am not defined by any limits.
Yes, sometimes I feel different to others, but we are all individuals, each of us is unique in our own way.

Some of the challenges I face relate to mobility, one leg being shorter than the other.  Lifts are easier for me than stairs but I am able to adapt and use stairs when lifts are not available or not working.

Self-care can present challenges - baths are difficult so for me a shower is easier.  I have learnt how to brush my teeth effectively using one hand to squeeze the toothpaste while holding the toothbrush. 

Sensory Integration difficulties can make loud noises and crowded spaces uncomfortable, so I tend to avoid those situations that may present these issues.

April 2021

I want to share my story with you, the short version…It is a story of a long journey through the mainstream school system. At 15-years-old, finally arriving at a school with staff that could adapt to me and who helped me gain the qualifications I needed to obtain a place at Chichester College to study business three years later.

I have complex special educational needs and all new things are daunting. Everyday things are challenging. Study is hard and does not come naturally to me. I have sensory and perception problems and often find it hard to fit in. I get overwhelmed very easily. Some days it is even hard to stay in class with people around me. Some days it is almost impossible to stay focused.

Does this sound like a person who can achieve outstanding things at Chichester College?

Well it is. The answer is most definitely yes. Chichester’s additional learning support is personalised support and I want to share with you how ALS works, and how it has worked for me.

ALS - The business of support with a path for you too

Staying in control: The culture is welcoming and inclusive. I felt part of something. I could contribute and feel comfortable with the plans.

Practical help: I could have special equipment for sensory challenges and a lift pass to help my mobility around college. I had opportunity to chill at the bungalow and walk Kipling our canine friend. (He is, by the way, an exceedingly good dog).

Adjustments: No problem! I have been able to meet with the Additional Learning Support team, agree support that would work for me and even special concessions to help with exams. These can be extra time, rest breaks, movement breaks, a reader, small prompts or the help of a scribe or digital technologies, all according to your needs.

Learning Community: In lectures there is strong back up from learning support assistants and outside class lots of opportunity for 1:1 coaching and you can even have your own mentor who is there for you, a personal tutor who knows you and who can guide you and get you through any sticky patches.

By the way, I had plenty of those! Independence is key, no one is ‘cramping your style’ but friendly caring people are by your side.

From intensive learning to intensive fun: Its not all study and assessments either, the Student Union offers many things for a good all-round college experience including many sports and trips away. ALS even helped me participate in the New York City trip. From Chichester to Wall Street - now there’s a journey!

So, if I have to convince you further of the benefits in Chichester College’s ALS department, I would say it takes the stress off, you can feel more confident and well supported. The additional learning support is tailored to you and is there to increase your independence and confidence. Outstanding support helped me make outstanding progress, more than I ever thought possible and it was not just about my study topic but helped me learn more about me and what worked for me.

Go on…‘give it a go’.

If you had said to me, when I joined Chichester College in September 2017, that I would take my first trip away from home without my parents to visit NYC, yes, the New York metropolis, in the following May, I would not have believed you and I might have even laughed out loud. In Freshers Week I noticed the Students’ Union advertised a range of trips for all students and NYC looked very exciting. Would this even be possible I wondered? Thinking here about the complex special needs and some mobility and sensory issues I have to contend with.

Chichester College ALS opens up new horizons and new possibilities, not just in study, for fun and for life too...

I asked the question --- (nervously) ‘Would this really be open to me?’ ‘Of course’ was the answer and without a pause the Additional Learning Support Team swung into action to help make it happen. One of the additional support assistants met me in my own home to talk through a typical day and what I did, my routines and what I needed to keep me safe and also to manage my medication and other needs. They assured me they would be there for me during the trip, they would support me, but not crowd me. The team went a whole ‘extra mile’ to make it so. They were going to accompany the group and help me if needed, I could not believe it, I was really going to New York!

International Travellers R Us

Let me tell you about the fantastic time we had and give you a flavour of our exhilarating itinerary.

I don’t suspect any of us slept well the night before departure, we had to get up at 3am to meet the coach at the College Heathrow bound. Passport – check; suitcase—check; dollars---check: ‘Bye bye’ parents, ‘bye bye’ pet dog, see you in five days! I was so excited but a little bit nervous about the flight and I wondered would my dog miss me. (She did).

I and my lovely LSA sailed through LHR departures and security with special assistance, we even had time for a shop and a drink and before we knew we were boarding the plane. I sat with my friends and for nine hours we had drinks, snacks, films, snooze, music and thoroughly enjoyed our flight with Virgin Atlantic. I say that even though I am nervous at take-off, but really, it was all so easy and the cabin crew really looked after us. Just before landing we prepared for immigration, filled out our landing cards and got ready to disembark at JFK! None of us could quite believe it.

Bright lights and bright nights in the Big Apple

A coach transferred us to the YMCA at Central Park and we went immediately out to eat and explore. No jet lag there, we were too excited. After our visit to the Hard Rock Café, and our first experience of hailing iconic Yellow taxi cabs, New York tipping culture, Sky scrapers, wide sidewalks and the melting pot of huge crowds we all called it a night and rested for our next day.

It did not disappoint: Empire State Building, Times Square, a trip to Broadway to take in a show. The lift up to the top of the Empire State Building is 102 floors, so fast and high your ears pop and I felt a hint of nausea, but the view across Manhatten and the Hudson River is captivating. When back at street level, what I learnt is you look up, the skyline is everything you imagine from films and dramas seen on TV, it is so impressive and glitzy. I also learnt you had to move with the crowds on the sidewalk….I came to the kerb and the momentum of vast numbers of people moving meant I fell forwards (a common thing for me) and the crowd shouted ‘woah’. Immediately my supportive LSA and the person who looked after risk assessment caught me, scooped me onto both feet and we were on our way through 5th Avenue again, all safe and well and laughing ‘nothing to see here’ New Yorkers.

Are you British?

Lots of times we were asked “Are you from England?” when we said “yes” often the response was “London”? “No, England does not equal London we are from Chi”! One time, I had some tea, it was not good, the barista at the counter said, “From your face I guess you are British?” In response, I said “Yes, and that is not English Breakfast Tea, it tastes like dishwater.” We all laughed. It would be a NYC coffee or orange juice next time... Who said when in Rome do what Romans do?

The next day we took in Wall Street, the Stock Exchange, Staten Island, the area where ‘Friends’ was filmed , Macey’s department Store, catching naps on the coach in between to combat jet lag. Breakfast in Central Park was memorable, fluffy pancakes dripping with maple syrup. Getting to sleep at night was easy, we were tired each evening and I enjoyed the noise of the big City outside the window at hostel lights out time.

The hostel was basic but had everything we needed. I had all the support I needed for personal care, I felt secure and able to manage knowing learning support staff were there for me and I even set my alarm to take medications at 2am.  NYC is five hours behind UK time so 2am is 7am, this is the time I have to take medications every day, and even that bit worked out fine, my support thought about every little detail to help me.

Tipping Culture – a bit of a culture shock

In the UK, we tend to only tip waiting staff in restaurants after a meal, in America, however, the culture is completely different. In America, tipping is required for everything, including special assistance service in an airport! Let me tell you, I was completely baffled as to why this guy wanted money from me for helping me to get to the departures gate in JFK for my flight home back to England.

It happened like this, after the special assistance person rolled me up to the gate in the special assistance wheelchair, I started getting my suitcase sorted with my LSA’s help, I looked behind me to see that he was still standing there. “What?” I asked, and he replied simply with “Tip”. I looked at my LSA in confusion, then I realised that he was asking for a tip for doing his job. Sighing, I dug two dollars from my purse and gave it to him, sending him on his way. Of course, now I know what to do in regard to tipping the next time I travel to the States by myself.

Reflections on the NYC Trip

I was so jet lagged when I got home, I slept a day and a night! My dog was so pleased to see me she ran all around the house when I returned, and my parents say she checked in on me as I slept, waiting for me to get up. The whole experience looking back on it gave me a great sense of freedom, that anything is possible with some planning and that new unfamiliar things and situations, even if they make you anxious can be so memorable and so much fun. Even a 747 jet taking off. I loved every minute of the trip. The experience also gave me some more confidence, in coping with life, college and also thinking about future global travel. Travel is something I want to do more of, I want to see many countries in the world and have got more confidence and belief that this is possible. I was far from home, but felt safe, and also independent, it was a real adventure. I used social media to update my parents and was so busy enjoying the city and the sights I didn’t think about home very much at all! I love travel, I love NYC!

A day in the life of Mariya, Learning Support Assistant

Mariya worked with me for over two years, acting as a guide, showing me by example and encouraging my independence in learning. Often I would be chilling out in B block and Mariya would meet me there before class but sometimes we would just arrive for the same class and she would sit next to me. At times I would be sitting at a table and sometimes I would sit at a computer, but she would always be on hand or by my side. This was always so reassuring.

During the class I would be listening to the lecturer while Mariya took some notes, so I could later read over the lecture content to remind myself. If I was working in a group, Mariya would take notes of the actions that I had to do that emerged from discussions with my fellow students. All the time, the emphasis was on me doing my best to learn, as independently as possible. Exams were interesting, not least because I was always very anxious but she could help me keep calm and acted as a reader and a scribe. For some exams I typed using a computer but she was there to make sure I could access the questions. At other assessments Mariya acted as a practical assistant, helping me do all the things needed, facilitating me to reach my full potential.

Here I talk with Mariya about her role and her typical day, and as you will find out she has a particular approach and strategy that is unique and is not just about doing things on the side to help:

Me: Perhaps we could start with you explaining your current role and why is it important?

Mariya: My current role is a learning support assistant and it is important because I work with students who have learning difficulties and disabilities and help them to find a better way to realise their full potential.

Me: I know it is a demanding role, because of how you helped me, please can you tell me what helps you prepare for your busy day supporting students?

Mariya: To be able to prepare the best way for my day in college, I usually try to imagine myself in the place of the students I am expecting to work with during the day. Another important thing is to familiarise myself better with the curriculum area that I will be working in, so that I would find the best strategies for students to succeed in their daily tasks and assignments. And last, but not least, I always assume that, when coming to college, my students will be willing to work and do their best, no matter the obstacles they may face.

Me: It is very noticeable that you try to imagine yourself in the place of students and what it is like for them, what motivates you every day in offering the excellent support that you offer?

Mariya: What motivates me most is students’ success and not only the success in the area they have chosen to make a career in, but their overall success to enjoy their lives, their confidence in overcoming obstacles and challenging themselves.

Me: Please can you describe a typical day and the kinds of things you do?

Mariya: The pace that my days run at depends greatly on the number of students that I support and on the area that I work in. Usually, I start the day in the Additional Support Centre in B block, checking my emails and any messages left for me by my colleagues or my managers. Very often I use this time to consult or share information about supported students with the additional support lecturers or other colleagues of mine.

Then I go to classes, where I meet my students and we get down to work. The type of support depends on the special needs of the students. It could include note taking, scribing, assisting in practical tasks, helping with work, planning, prioritising and focusing on the tasks assigned etc. Sometimes I work with just one student (1:1 support), other times I support groups of two to five students. When students’ lessons finish, I go back to the office to fill in the registers for the day and to check my emails or other messages. Once in a week I have a specially allocated time slot (admin time), which I use to write notes on the progress that the students I support have made during the week.

Me: What would you say is your philosophy regarding learning support?

Mariya: The best way to help a student is to teach them how to help themselves in different situations. And this is usually achieved by showing them understanding and willingness to support them in every situation and by personal example.

Me: What is it that you like about your job and what gives you the most satisfaction?

Mariya: Students’ success is what gives me the most satisfaction. And what I like most is the chance to meet so many uniquely gifted young people whom I learn a lot about life from.

Me: Thanks Mariya, it is great to hear from you what it is like from your perspective. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

A day in the life of Simon, Head of Additional Learning Support, Resources and Welfare

My first encounter with Simon, Head of Additional Learning Support, was a chance meeting in the corridor when I had become frustrated and overwhelmed in my first year and I had left the class in a huff in the middle of the lesson! I may even have been muttering under my breath at the time. Sometimes I just have to get into a different space and think about things, and gather myself and get a perspective on stuff. I often leave a situation that overwhelms me and I go get a coffee and calm down. On this day, in that moment, I had no idea who he was and when he asked me if I knew who he was, when I said ‘sorry, no I don’t’, he replied ‘I’m Simon Brown, the Head of Learning support’. I immediately thought, ‘oh no! I am in trouble now!’ I began to sweat - metaphorically speaking. You know that feeling of being in the presence of authority? He was smiling, but I still had difficulty reading his body language (which is a common thing for me) so I was quite nervous.

Simon immediately put me at ease, he talked with me and helped me to gather my thoughts and we have had many good meetings since that day and he has helped me come up with solutions for tricky situations and to overcome many challenges over my three years at the college.

Here I interview Simon and I think you might find what he has to say about his role, himself and a typical day interesting. Keeping going when things are tough and using the building blocks of education to make a difference to our lives is very affirming:

Me : Perhaps we could begin with you explaining your current role and why is it important?

Simon: I am the Head of Learning Support, Resources and Welfare for Chichester and Brinsbury and I support ALS in Worthing.  It is an important role because these services are vital to ensure that we remain an inclusive college. As a college group, our mission statement is to be within the top 10% of colleges in the country whilst remaining inclusive, and this would not be possible without the outstanding support and provision our students get to achieve their goals.

I believe that to be an inclusive society, we must have inclusive structures in place and the building blocks always start in education.  As Nelson Mandela said: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’.

Me: That is so interesting, you are really pointing to how to make a real difference Simon. Please can you tell me what helps you prepare for your busy day supporting students and using the building blocks of education?

Simon: I’m an early riser, so I walk my dogs, then exercise before heading into work.  So I am up around 5:30 am and into work for 8am.  This routine gives me a chance to get my mind and body in a good place before starting the day. The biggest thing that helps me prepare though is coffee and a chance to talk to the people I work with.  I am very lucky to work with such an amazing group of people who I enjoy spending time with!

Me: What motivates you every day in offering the excellent support that Additional Support offer?

Simon: I am motivated by knowing that the support we provide really does change lives.  Our support service is focused on an ethos of development and independence.  This means all students should have a greater level of independence when they leave college compared to when they started.  This is what keeps me going when things are tough!

Me: Please can you describe a typical day and the kinds of things you do?

Simon: It sounds cliché but there is not really a typical day, but I will try:

I meet with colleagues from across college to discuss the support and provision they need in their area; I meet with my amazing Deputy Head, Hannah, and Team Leaders, Fiona, Mash and Kerry to discuss ALS and what we need to do both strategically and day to day and I meet with Local Authorities to discuss provision across the region and develop plans for the coming years. 

I also (thankfully) get to see learners who either come to see me or I see through our Safeguarding duty, as I am one of a team of Safeguarding Officers in the college.

Me: What is your philosophy regarding learning support?

Simon: Don’t expect them to learn the way we teach; we should teach the way they learn.

Me: What is it that you like about your job and what gives you the most satisfaction?

Simon: As I have mentioned, I am extremely lucky to like everyone I work with and within my close team, we are like a family, so the people I work with give me satisfaction. 

Fundamentally, it is knowing that the work I do and the teams I work with make a difference both individually to the learners we work with and more widely to the society that we are sending the young people into.

Me: Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your thoughts with my readers.

*Lola Ellen’s name has been changed to protect her privacy but her story is real, written by her in her own words.