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Recognizing the ongoing challenges faced by students with special needs, the Richmond School District is stepping up.
Through its continuing education division, the district is offering a unique program for those interested in pursuing a career working with special needs youth. In addition to offering a full-time program, a part-time education assistant program begins this February, with study sessions two evenings per week for the next year. Participants will also engage in a three-week and four-week practicum during school hours. The course provides instruction with how to work with Kindergarten to Grade 12 students with physical, behavioural, sensory and learning needs in schools.
The 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, released by Statistics Canada, found mental health-related and learning disabilities to be the most common types of disabilities among youth. At eight per cent, mental health is the most common, followed by learning at six per cent.
“The need (is) there to support students who exhibit challenging behaviour,” explains program administrator Kathleen Champion.
A longtime, and strong advocate for providing more assistance for students with special needs, she says the reasons for their requiring support are varied. But creating an inclusive learning environment is seen as an important and positive step in a child’s education.
Champion is proud of the Richmond program, noting a large percentage of graduates have already been hired by the Richmond School District.
“They’re absolutely grateful they’ve got these people because there is a shortage everywhere. And our students graduate with great skills,” says Champion. “Our program has been really exemplary, and that’s in no small part to the credit of the education assistants already in the schools who have been their mentors. They’ve embraced them and that’s really important.”
The number of students in both the full-time and part-time education assistant programs are capped at 32.
Champion says she’s pleased to see the Education Ministry in B.C. is committed to inclusive education.
“I think even though people can argue there is not enough funding, the mission and vision is there,” she says. “I think it just means we have to all try the best we can, and that’s what we are trying to do (in Richmond).”