Hong Kong jazz musicians team with students to support special needs school

Two-day gig to raise funds for Jockey Club Sarah Roe School

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 January, 2015, 4:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 January, 2015, 4:40pm

Art, play and outdoor excursions are everyday parts of school life. However, they're the lifeblood for students at Jockey Club Sarah Roe School, the only English-medium school in Hong Kong devoted to children with special learning needs.

"Art is important," says John Greene, chairman of its parent-teacher association. "The children get to do what they like and, more importantly, get satisfaction when they finish a task, especially if everyone clap their hands, or they can win a small prize.

"From the child's point of view, in this hard, horrible world where I am definitely one of the strange ones, this is great. 'Somebody appreciates what I did.' You may not see a lot of responses from these children, but they feel it, they sense it and they know it."

For this reason, the PTA has rallied professional jazz musicians and student musicians within the English Schools Foundation (ESF) network for a two-day fundraiser, aiming to raise HK$300,000 to construct a multi-sensory outdoor play area, expand the existing art room, and sponsor transport for off-campus excursions.

The fundraiser comprises two sections: the Hong Kong Jazz Family Fest, two evening performances featuring more than 40 professional musicians and an ESF student vocalist, Rhian Anderson. Part two is an afternoon event where 30 students from various ESF schools will showcase their talents.

It's the second time the PTA has organised this event. Last year, it raised HK$300,000, which funded the construction of multi-sensory facilities in the library, and a life-skills learning room, where students learn how to make beds, cook, clean up, wash and groom themselves.

A multi-sensory setting, where students can explore texture, sound, smell, sight and taste, as well as motion, is important because the school caters to students aged between five and 19 with various degrees of physical and mental disability.

Karin Wetselaar, principal of the Sarah Roe School, says her students currently share outdoor facilities with the adjacent King George V School because they do not have their own.

"On such a beautiful day as today, our kids should be playing outside," says Wetselaar. "It is important for their physical and emotional well-being."

It's also beneficial to learn to play alongside children of different developmental levels. For example, it may take a long time for a child with profound autism to come out of his shell to play, but being exposed to a multi-sensory environment may speed up the process.

Funds will also be used to release more space by improving storage, allowing them to accommodate more wheelchair-bound students whose numbers have grown considerably since the room was built 20 years ago.

It would also go towards transport for community activities, ranging from a trip to the supermarket, a day out at the cricket field, boating at Sai Kung or a visit to the museum, or even for vocational experience at the Crossroads charity.

Wetselaar says such excursions are important for the students, who need hands-on experience to grasp different concepts.

"Our students learn the best when they can learn through an ongoing experience of the same concept, making their own progress as they practise again and again. It also builds up their confidence because they are making small but tangible steps."

Greene, whose son attends Sarah Roe School, says that it is also an important step in educating the community about inclusion, and in preparing their students for life as they can no longer remain at the school when they turn 19.

"From a parent's perspective, mummy and daddy cannot live forever," he says. "When mummy and daddy are gone, how is the child going to cope? In the school they are well taken care of, but what happens when they reach the magical age of 19?

"They may not be able to become independent, but they have to learn to adapt to an environment that is totally different to the school. That sounds cruel, but society is not going to change for them. Through these excursions, they will learn how to behave in an 'acceptable way' that does not draw negative attention from others when they are outside the campus."

As part of the ESF, the Sarah Roe School may take in special needs students from sister schools from time to time, while its own students may join different lessons at other ESF schools, particularly King George V School.

Rhian Anderson, who attends King George V School with a sibling with special learning needs, will open the Jazz Family Fest with a song.

"I am very excited because it is something very worthwhile," she says.

Her mother has also set up a social media network, Special Needs Network Hong Kong (email: [email protected]), to support parents of children with special learning needs.

Greene finds it heartening to see how the Sarah Roe School has brought together professional musicians, parents and students from other ESF schools to create the jazz charity event.

"It is amazing how our parents persuaded professional musicians to come forward to give their talents for free, and allow us to sell tickets in their name," he says.

He hopes that the jazz festival and similar fundraising drives can become an annual tradition.

"The fundraiser is a special occasion for all: students get to showcase their talents and the money raised goes towards helping our students. It is win-win for everyone."

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Hong Kong "Jazz Family" Fest; Jan 16-17, 8.30pm, Grappa's Cellar, Jardine House, 1 Connaught Place, Central; tickets HK$600 (includes two drinks) from Grappa's Cellar, or online at

ESF's Got Musical Talent, Jan 17, 3pm, Grappa's Cellar, tickets HK$100 (adult), HK$50 (students and seniors) from