LDS Welcomes New Associate Director of Learning Support, Melissa Sager

We’re pleased to welcome Melissa Sager to the LDS team as our new Associate Director of Learning Support. Melissa has over ten years of experience providing remedial instruction for children with special needs in both public and private settings.

During that time, she even created a small school where she worked with a team of multidisciplinary professionals to address academic, social, emotional, behavioural and executive functioning goals, while nurturing maximum student engagement through interest-based learning programs.

As Associate Director of Learning Support, Melissa will work closely with the Executive Director and Director of Learning Support to expand and develop LDS’s in-school, centre-based, after-school and summer programs.

What first inspired you to take up teaching as a profession?

During university, I volunteered at a therapeutic horseback riding farm where I helped teach children and youth with a range of disabilities and mental health disorders learn about horsemanship and horse care. Horses are keen observers; they are very sensitive to movement and emotion. They often mirror behaviour or emotions, conveying understanding and connection that allows a person to feel safe.

It was really impactful to observe how children and youth were able to develop a sense of self-awareness using the horse’s behaviour and interactions for feedback. I witnessed how clients were fully present when working with these large, sensitive animals and able to be so present and process what was happening in the moment. My experiences at the farm helped me realize how much I loved being a facilitator of both learning and therapeutic experiences, so I decided to go back to school to pursue my Masters in Education and become a special education teacher.

Some of the work you did for your Masters of Education centered around students with learning disabilities. Can you tell us a bit about that and how it has informed your approach to teaching over the years?

I worked with children who had significant emotional and behavioural challenges in a Special Education classroom, which required me to become incredibly attuned to a child’s needs and level of engagement during instruction.

I realized that there are numerous factors, unrelated to aptitude or ability, that influence a student’s availability to learn and access the curriculum. As teachers, there are many environmental variables we can control and strategies we can employ to facilitate optimal learning, and great instruction begins with making sure a student’s needs are being met.

Was there a pivotal moment or experience in your career that really highlighted the value and/or need for individualized instruction?

I tutored an incredibly bright first grader whose enthusiasm about life and high level of engagement in the learning process was infectious! When he entered grade 2 and expectations shifted towards greater independence, especially in reading and transitioning between tasks, he began to internalize some of his difficulties keeping up with the class.

It was heartbreaking to see how he lost confidence in himself and in his academic abilities. There was a stark contrast in his demeanor when learning at home in a tutoring context compared to his learning experience at school. At home, his inquisitiveness was insatiable. He was constantly seeking out information on a wide variety of topics and initiating in-depth, multi-step projects that required a great deal of planning, organization and goal-persistence.

Knowing how successful he could be in an environment that was well-suited for his learning style, his family decided to try homeschooling and asked me to help design a customized learning program based on his strengths and needs. When lessons were both individualized and geared toward his interests, he was able to access the curriculum, develop good strategies for optimal learning with a disability, and excel beyond grade level expectations in many areas.

What drew you to LDS?

From the moment I first met with LDS staff during the interview phase, it was very clear to me how deeply this community cares about helping kids with learning disabilities and making sure no student is left behind. I’m excited about being a part of a really passionate, creative and dedicated team, and working towards furthering LDS’s mission.

What most excites you about working here?

When I learned that LDS is a non-profit charity whose mission is to improve life outcomes for at-risk children and youth through individualized remedial education, I was very interested to learn more. It is rare to find a program that can offer fully funded, one-to-one interventions for clients who qualify. It is a high-need service in many communities and there aren’t any other organizations who offer this service in Vancouver.

What’s your favourite subject to teach?

Even though it was my least favorite subject during my school years, I really love teaching Math.

Red apples or green apples?   

I love ALL apples!