40 years of support

Photo of Jenni with RIDBC student in classroom

RIDBC Alice Betteridge School Principal, Julie Kirkness, talks about the history of the school and Jenni Parkes' 40 years of support.  

As I write I hope that many ex-students, their families and staff will read this newsletter and decide to keep in touch with us!

In the early 1970s, Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) turned its attention to the specific educational needs of children with multiple disabilities. A pilot program commenced which lead to the establishment of the first school in Australia for multi-handicapped blind children in 1974. Known as The Special School for Multi-Handicapped Blind Children, the school provided accommodation as well as medical, educational and therapeutic facilities.

This school was renamed Alice Betteridge School in 1990 in honour of Alice Betteridge (1901 – 1966), RIDBC’s first deafblind student and the first deafblind child to be educated in Australia.

There, right at the beginning of it all, was Jenni Parkes. Jenni is an RIDBC Alice Betteridge School Teacher’s Assistant who celebrated 40 years of service to RIDBC in May this year. Jenni remembers the very first students of the school and is still in contact with many of the families today! Jenni has kindly agreed to share some of her memories with us for this, RIDBC's first alumni newsletter:

What first brought you to RIDBC?

Jenni: I was born in England and I lived down the road from a school for the blind with a residential facility for young adults. I remember my whole family being involved with the facility; dad scribed, mum baked for fundraisers. Mum also ran a club for the deafblind once a month, and those members were regular visitors to our house for afternoon tea - this is when I learnt the deafblind manual alphabet.

I later went on to do my training in child care, before working as a nanny in Canada. I then came to Australia and was again working as a nanny when I saw an advertisement for a live-in position in a residential program for deaf and blind children with RIDBC, then known as Royal New South Wales Institute for Deaf and Blind Children. I started a week later as a houseparent living with 13 deafblind children and four other houseparents. We worked shift work with one weekend off a month. We were like a big family! I then joined RIDBC Alice Betteridge School as a teacher’s assistant in 1990.

What do you do as a teacher’s assistant?

Jenni: The role is really varied, anything from assisting the classroom teacher in planning and delivering educational programs, to looking after the students’ personal care needs. The students at RIDBC Alice Betteridge School have a range of disabilities in addition to their vision or hearing loss, so their support requirements can be quite complex.

What do you love above your job?

Jenni: So many things! It’s hard to name just one thing… I love the relationships you build with the children and the atmosphere of the school - it’s a happy place to work. There’s always a new challenge and every day is different. I’ve stayed for 40 years because I like what I do!

What changes have you seen since you first came to RIDBC?

Jenni: Children now live with their families rather than onsite at RIDBC, that’s been a significant change. The range of services available through RIDBC has also grown exponentially - from the development of RIDBC Teleschool, RIDBC’s remote and regional service, to the establishment of early learning programs for children with vision or hearing loss.

Technology has also changed so much - back in the 70’s there were no computers, iPads, Smartboards or touch screens! Now, we use this technology as part of our everyday approach to providing the best support for the children who access RIDBC’s services.

Any closing comments?

Jenni: Thank you to RIDBC for giving me the opportunity to make a make a difference to the lives of so many wonderful students and families for the last 40 years. It has been a privilege!