A day in the life of a Satellite Unit

Sommerville School Satellite Unit, Glendowie Primary

What is a Satellite Unit?

  • A special needs satellite unit (consisting of 1 or more classes) is run by a special needs school, but within the grounds of a mainstream school.
  • The special needs school (the base school) caters for higher needs students and most children start there before being assigned to a satellite unit.
  • Students in each class are a mix of ages as they are organised by the need of the student rather than focusing on age. A student will not necessarily attend the closest satellite class to where they live.
  • The special needs base school has a wider catchment area than a mainstream school so a child doesn’t necessarily have to be “in zone” for the host school satellite unit they attend.
  • A child generally has to have ORS (Ongoing Resource Scheme) funding to be enrolled by a special needs school and they pool the funding assigned to each child allowing them to maximise the resources available to each child.

Isla is enrolled by Sommerville Special School, located in Panmure, that has 13 Satellites Units across East Auckland who provide opportunities for students to integrate into mainstream school. Glendowie Primary School has been one of the host schools since 1990.

Outside the Satellite Unit

Glendowie Primary

The unit at Glendowie Primary has one class (room 29). This is geographically placed in the central area of school near the playground.  There are currently 10 children of different ages in Isla’s satellite class. There is one (awesome) teacher and 2 (awesome) Teacher Aides.

We were very fortunate that there happened to be a satellite unit at our local school.  Isla started school enrolled by Glendowie Primary but moved to the unit part way through year 1 as was a better place to meet her needs while we reapplied for ORS funding.

At the present time at Glendowie Primary, the children of Room 29 have the opportunity to play with other children at breaks on the playground, attend assemblies and sports days. Currently they participate at Cross Country and Athletics Days with a suitable year group.

Some students go to mainstream classes for reading, spelling and PE. The class is involved in different activities at the school. For example for Book Week other teachers will come and read to the class, they will have a buddy class to do reading activities with and the children will participate in the Book Week Parade in their costumes.

Why is a satellite unit beneficial for all?

A satellite class provides the best environment for learning for some children. However socialising and mixing with neurotypical children provides opportunities for learning social skills, feeling included and pushes them out of their comfort zone to be part of the “real world”.

Children in a satellite unit (or in fact any child with different abilities) have so much to teach others as well.  It can be the first opportunity for children to realise that having an able body and brain is a gift in itself and there are many other benefits :-

  • Learning to read and write is a skill to help you succeed in life.  So is learning empathy, unconditional acceptance, patience and communication skills. Interacting with others different from yourself is a skill. Understanding that although someone can’t reply to you in a typical way, doesn’t mean they don’t understand what you are saying!
  • School is a snapshot of society which is full of diversity and children can learn from this. Each child should learn there is no such thing as normal and to always be kind.
  • Children with special needs have different personalities just like everyone else.  However they all share a sense of innocence, trust and have caring natures.
  • Neurodiverse children with autism may have exaggerated responses to things others may also feel themselves, this in turn helps people understand their own sensory sensitivities.
  • Being exposed to differences may define a path for students for their future, eg it might inspire them to be a doctor, a nurse, a therapist or invent something to help. Isla’s older sister wants to be an Occupational Therapist, after attending appointments with Isla.
  • Teachers can learn better ways to interact with their own students (eg observe, wait and listen) and Makaton sign language that is a powerful tool to enforce instructions.

What does a typical day look like in Room 29 for Isla and her classmates?

Walking to school

Getting to school

If you live in our community:-

  • please feel free to come and walk with us if you see us on the way to school. Isla loves to chat!
  • you may have seen other children being dropped by Taxi. This is a service that is provided to Sommerville students.
  • you may have noticed we drop our children off by the disability parks. Most of us have disability passes because our children need to start their day without extra sensory and physical stress and have no sense of danger. They need ease of access to the classroom. There are limited disability parks at school and they are located in the staff carpark by the entrance of the hall.  Please make sure you don’t block the entry way and are careful when crossing the driveway as our cars come and go and visibility is poor.

Isla walks into class from the gate now on her own.  This was a huge milestone for us and we practiced it for a few months with her walking in from different landmarks within school and the use of visuals.  She is now very focussed on walking from the gate to her classroom and will not be deterred even by her BFF arriving at the same time.

After arriving in class Isla will unpack her bag then play until the bell rings.

Visual timetable

Circle Time

Isla tells me the class discusses the day and month and learns how to say the short date.  They all say “good morning” and hello to the Teacher and Teacher Aides and talk about how they are feeling. Then they look at the time table for the day.

Big Book/shared reading

Is less about learning to read and more about the skills of reading eg predicting, analyzing characters, vocabulary work, thinking about the title, the blurb etc.  The same book is used for a week with a different focus each day.

Morning Tea/Lunch 

Normally eaten outside followed by a play on the playground.

Swimming lessons


The class do a lot of class trips to Sommerville (which is based in Panmure) for sports and music. They go swimming at Panmure Lagoon Pool, visit the dentist and sometimes for a treat at the end of term, a trip to the Playground, a short walk from school.


Each term there is a new focus whether it be dance or music.  There are music and drama specialists at Sommerville who visit our class for a term once a year.



Every day has a different learning focus as well as a topic for the term.  All the children learn at their own pace and have different goals they are working towards. The curriculum is adapted for our children with various practical and physical activities because our children learn best by movement and using materials. Each of these subjects are taught in a rotation of activities so each child has a chance to work on their goal, practice it with a game or activity, practice previous learning on the smart board and some independent work.

For maths they use a resource called Numicon. A distinctive multi-sensory approach to children’s mathematical learning.

Other Goals

Soccer skills

Isla also has other goals and therapy she does during school time.

The teacher works with Speech Language Therapist, Physiotherapist and Occupational Therapist (OT) to help Isla meet her physical and social goals.

For example one of her goals is to increase communication with less familiar people with minimal support around the school. This skill doesn’t come naturally to Isla so she has to learn how to have a proper conversation having turns in conversation.

Her physical goal set by the OT is to improve her balance when moving around and participating in classroom activities so she doesn’t crash into people and furniture. She is currently learning to stand on her right leg without holding onto anything for support for 5 seconds. Participation in various programmes and activities such as gymnastics all help to improve Isla’s balance and motor skills.

“Brain Break”

Every 30-45mins or so the children will do some running, dancing, fitness, yoga or OT skills eg animal crawling, popping bubbles to reset themselves.


We all know how important this is. Especially for little brains that have to work super hard at school. 10 minutes lie down with some nice relaxing music. Isla struggles some times not to fall asleep!

Cooking Day!


As well as all the learning going on our kids are also learning important life skills. On Friday its cooking day.

They have an outing some weeks to the Supermarket to shop for their ingredients and then cook, eat (with a knife & fork) and do the dishes!

Isla struggles with being exposed to new food at times.  She finds it hard to try new food and would be happy making chocolate muffins each week. I think she enjoys making the food even if she won’t eat it.

Her egg cracking skills are now second to none!

Click below to see more photos of what happens in Room 29…..


Published by Sara Stythe

Hi my name is Sara Stythe and I am a mum of 3 beautiful girls. This is a place to share knowledge, resources and information I have learnt along the way on this unexpected journey with our unique youngest daughter. Isla is missing a tiny bit of her 2nd chromosome (2q23.1 Microdeletion Syndrome, recently known as MAND) causing autism, epilepsy and development delay. If you would like to receive my new blog posts by email you can subscribe. Thank you

2 thoughts on “A day in the life of a Satellite Unit

  1. Thank you for sharing. Miss 3 is ASD / anxiety / sensory and it’s a relief to see lots of photos and details to get a glimpse of how visual communication, scheduling, movement, and sensory needs might be addressed.


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