My name is Ruby, I am 19 and have completed my A levels. After a (very) brief stint at the University of Birmingham, I withdrew and decided to take a gap year to reconsider my options. Admittedly, in those first few months following leaving university, it took me a while to find my feet. My impromptu gap year challenged my need to plan everything; I had to learn to embrace the ambiguity of it all. Yet my one source of continuity throughout everything was working at Stepping Stones.

I have to thank Larry Sullivan (a family friend and Chairman of COINS) for putting me in touch with the Hindhead-based school for children with mild to moderate disabilities. I can say with total certainty that it has been one of the best (albeit sometimes challenging) experiences I’ve had.

Ruby spent some time at the Lower school of Stepping Stones and was an amazing assist and role model. She is such a creative young lady and we saw her confidence grow and grow.

Melissa Grigsby - Head Teacher at Stepping Stones

I remember how nervous I was on my first day; like the new kid in class. Would the children like me, or worse still, even respond to me? The answer was, not always, because firstly kids are kids; unpredictable and sometimes unruly. Secondly, the students at Stepping Stones have a variety of additional challenges to deal with on top of the usual woes and anxieties of growing up. But over the next few months, I went from stressing over not knowing the names of all the students to making special connections with some of them (as shown by the unbelievably sweet Christmas and thank you cards that I received at the end of term). Working as a teaching assistant giving individual help to students who needed it, of course there were moments of frustration, when a child simply wouldn’t want to cooperate, yet these moments were hugely outweighed by the small victories. Whether that’s teaching division to a student who hates Maths by using blocks, or motivating a student (who will talk their way out of having to read their reading book to you) to write their own story and share it with the class, each success meant so much more knowing the challenges that had to be overcome in order to get there.

Stepping Stones differs to mainstream schools in that the emphasis is less on academic rigour, and more on encouraging the students to unlock their potential. To aid this, the school day operates slightly differently, with breaks in between each lesson and a variety of therapy sessions embedded into the timetables of the students, such as play therapy, speech and language therapy and talking therapy as well as visits to Miniland farm and equine.

The staff at Stepping Stones are phenomenal, with endless patience and energy. It is thanks to them that the atmosphere at the school is so uniquely friendly and accepting. I feel truly privileged to have worked alongside such a wonderful group of people. So, all that is left to say is thank you Stepping Stones – this job has allowed me to build my confidence in a way no other job could and for that I am incredibly grateful.