By Rhiannon Riches
THE FIRST Minister stood on familiar territory when he officially opened a new purpose-built school for children who are deaf or have speech and language impairment.
Alex Salmond told staff and students that the new building for Donaldson’s School in Linlithgow was right on the doorstep of the home where he grew up.
He said: “I was born 200 yards down the road – spent my entire childhood there. I went to nursery school and secondary school down the road. This is my hometown.”
Students, aged from two-and-a-half to 19, accompanied by teaching and support staff, waved Saltire flags and cheered as a welcomed Mr Salmond to the school.
After greeting the children with the help of an interpreter, Mr Salmond received a tour of the modern school building and its specially-designed facilities.
A group of four students identified shapes using an interactive whiteboard, while another group of four pupils demonstrated how to spell the alphabet – and showed Mr Salmond how to sign ‘First Minister’.
“This might come in handy in the Scottish Parliament,” Mr Salmond said following his brief lesson.
Dressed in chef’s whites, secondary-school aged pupils displayed their skills in food technology, preparing a meal from ingredients sourced locally.
And in the nursery, three-year-olds Melissa and Jay happily painted as they sat surrounded in a room full of colour and activity.
Playdough, wooden toys, a miniature sandpit and a fish tank provided visual stimulation in a bright room overlooking the Forth Valley.
Speaking at the official opening ceremony, Mr Salmond said it was a great privilege to communicate with students.
“It’s wonderful that a great Scottish institution has come to a place I know so well and love,” he said.
“Listening, understanding, communicating and enabling is what this school is about,” he said, before officially declaring the school open with a traditional beating of the Donaldson’s drum.
The school – which first opened in Edinburgh in 1850 – moved into the new building in January this year and is one of the seven grant-aided special schools supported by the Scottish Government.
The school provides education and care for 70 pupils, some of which are also resident at the school, and employs 112 full-time and part-time staff.
Principal Janice MacNeill said staff and students alike had settled in quickly, which was testament to the school’s excellent design.
She said: “The architect’s brief was to meet the needs of speech and hearing impaired children and much emphasis was placed on the importance of acoustics in the building.”
“ The school boasts low ceilings, sound-absorbent flooring materials and low-level public announcement systems that have effectively eliminated reverberation and echo – problems that existed in the Playfair building that formerly housed Donaldson’s school.
“The children are more settled here and there was a real buzz when the students arrived in January.”