Mission Makers: June — providing a transformative learning experience for students

Mission Makers: June — providing a transformative learning experience for students

 exJune, an LDS remedial instructor, is a bubbly and energetic woman. Throughout her interview, June explained her adventurous and exciting life journey with such joy. From the way she fondly discussed the students she has worked with to how she described the neighbourhood near the LDS office as a “little Italian quarter with mountains in the background that reminds her of her time in Italy, June radiates happiness and laughter. 

June started her teaching career at an elementary school, but soon after she got the travel bug. She received her Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate and began teaching across Europe. Eventually, she found her way back to England and was working on-call and volunteering in her spare time. This was when June was introduced to a young student with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), which prompted her interest in dyslexia and learning differences. June went back to university to train as a Specialist Dyslexia Teacher and soon started working as a one-to-one remedial teacher. 

The experience of one particular student truly impacted June. The student came to June without the ability to read due to his dyslexia. “I worked with him for two years, and I thought ‘this is really quite hard. He wasn’t making much progress, and then suddenly, it all fell into place: he was reading, received accommodations for his exams, and eventually went to university. “He was flying! June exclaims with a laugh. He was June’s first student and case study during university, and she grew very fond of him. June is proud to say he received an art degree and is now a graphic designer. 

June has her own experiences with challenges, similar to students with dyslexia. She struggles with directions, sequencing, and working memory. “We all have our good days and bad days,” says June, “but it helps with my understanding of the students.” 

When asked what her favourite part about working with LDS is, June rattles off a lengthy list without a second thought. “I love that it’s student-centred, the contact with staff, and that LDS is so accommodating. I love that I can mix and match and work in schools, online, and in the Learning Centre. And the kids!” June exclaims. “Everything is just ideal.” 

“I love my students, June says. “I work with so many talented students, every single one of them. So creative, athletic, they all do something and it’s amazing. But they just don’t know it.” June includes positive self-talk, relevant subject matter, and activities that interest students iher lessons with them. She emphasizes her students’ strengths and builds on their talents and interests to encourage them.  

The most challenging part of her job, June says, is the lesson planning. “You need to plan loads and loads of stuff because you never know just how the lessons are going to go,” she says with a laugh. June is very mindful of the multi-sensory materials she prepares for students and includes activities for brain breaks. 

“I hope I can give them a transformative learning experience, and they can use the tools and strategies I teach them in their lives outside of LDS, and that can make a difference in their confidence and self-autonomy.” 

 

—Rie 

_________________ 

Rie Stadnichuk (she/her) is the Digital Communications Specialist at LDS. Currently studying Communications and Economics at Simon Fraser University, she hopes to use this opportunity as a way of exploring meaningful work in the field. She is passionate about social issues and creating environments of inclusivity and open dialogue. Rie graciously lives and works on the unceded territory of the Syilx people. 

Mission Makers: Claire—advocating for accessibility

Mission Makers: Claire—advocating for accessibility

 “Some families come to us after being with a private tutor or organization because the services weren’t specialized or individualized for students with learning differences. More often than not, they were also financially inaccessible. I don’t think any child should go without, especially because of money, so if we can help, that’s incredible.—Claire, Program Manager 

For the last three years, Claire has been making a difference in our students’ lives through advocacy and her passion for teaching, first as an Instructor with the Learning Disabilities Society (LDS) and now as our Program Manager. 

Claire’s interest in educationspecifically her experiences as a Teacher’s Assistant (TA) at the University of British Columbia during her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writingattracted her to LDS. “I was a TA for many creative writing courses and saw a lot of students take creative writing as an elective. They thought that writing was easy, so they took it and then realized writing can be hard. I saw that struggle a lot, and it made me think about how writing must be even more challenging for people with written output difficulties.”   

As Program Manager, Claire oversees the onboarding and matching of instructors and students. For instructors, her tasks include recruiting, hiring, and training, which allows her to continue her passion for teaching. For clients, her role includes intake interviews, scheduling, and assisting with funding.  

During client intakes, Claire says, “we learn more about the child’s learning needs, their strengths, their stretches, and what their goals are. We talk about what we do and the ways we can offer support. Following the intake, I help families access internal and third-party funding: CKNW Kids Fund, Variety Children’s Charity Heart Fund, Jordan’s Principle, and Autism Funding Unit. If they are eligible, I’ll help them apply; sometimes I will help with literacy and numeracy skills to fill out the forms if those are barriers for the guardians.” 

This is part of what Claire calls advocating and, in this case, internal advocating.  

Advocating for the financial accessibility of our services and helping families is what Claire finds fulfilling in her job. Claire’s tone softenas she talks about her experiences helping families:   

“From my experience, people think of accessibility in terms of mobility and not so much as financialWhat I enjoy about my job is making our services more financially accessible. I come from a workingclass, single-parent family of two kids with no outside help. If my brother or I had needed any academic or social support that would have been challenging. Our sports were already so financially difficult for my mom, who never wanted us to be without. She got a paper route on top of her full-time job to support us. So, if there is any way that we can provide financial assistance, it means a lot to me.”  

Claire’s advice for families is to keep advocating for their family and their child(ren). “Or find people who can help because not everyone knows how to advocate. That’s also something we can do in small ways. That’s why I’m so passionate about the financial accessibility of our services: it’s a way we can help families advocate for their child.”   

—Rie 

_________________ 

Rie Stadnichuk (she/her) is the Digital Communications Specialist at LDS. Currently studying Communications and Economics at Simon Fraser University, she hopes to use this opportunity as a way of exploring meaningful work in the field. She is passionate about social issues and creating environments of inclusivity and open dialogue. Rie graciously lives and works on the unceded territory of the Syilx people. 

 

Mission Makers: Rachel Y.—a holistic approach to remedial instruction

Mission Makers: Rachel Y.—a holistic approach to remedial instruction

 

The Learning Disabilities Society (LDS) is lucky to have so many excellent and unique instructors to match with our students. One of these instructors, Rachel Y., is not only calm, patient, and kindhearted, she also brings a holistic outlook to her approach to remedial instruction.

Rachel’s varied work experience contributes to her current role of providing Research-informed Individualized Student Education (RISE) to students at our East Vancouver Learning Centre and online through our RISE at Home Program.

Rachel began her career by pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology, the study of human body movement. She then went on to help children with developmental delays, physical disabilities, and learning disabilities. She’s also worked with children to improve their academic, social, communication, and life skills. Rachel is delighted to see students making progress. “Giving children the tools to express themselves,” she says, “makes all the difference in their confidence and enthusiasm to continue learning.”

It was Rachel’s experience working individually with one student with physical and learning differences that taught her the importance of having a student-focused curriculum, something that is central to LDS’ RISE programming. By adjusting her teaching to coincide with the techniques and strategies the student best responded to, Rachel was able to see the student quickly make progress in their academics and social skills.

Rachel has also worked in children’s summer camps, community support projects, and social inclusion programs (working with participants with various physical and developmental differences). “My biggest take away [from these experiences] is that everyone should be able to participate in their community—pursue things they find interesting, goals they have, and feel confident in their place in the community. To me, this translates to LDS as: ‘students should be confident in themselves as kids, as members of their school and community, but also confident in their schoolwork.’”

Coming to LDS with an exceptional yet unconventional set of educational and work experiences, Rachel was a bit hesitant to apply. “To be honest, I was a little worried…I don’t have experience in a traditional classroom.” But she was excited to work with LDS, an organization with energy and focus. “At LDS, we are always pushing to grow and improve, whether that’s the instruction or new projects; that was really attractive to me. It’s exciting that everyone is always pushing for new growth.”

“Over time,” Rachel says, “I have gained more confidence. I realized that my education and experiences shape how I approach my work at LDS.” Rachel’s favourite aspect of working with LDS is approaching each instructor-student relationship from a different perspective.

While research, curricula, and teaching strategies guide Rachel’s instruction, she likes that she can apply and adapt them in a way that “makes the most sense for the student.” For example, if a student doesn’t like working with flashcards, Rachel will try turning things into a board game or customizing the worksheets to be themed in an activity that the student enjoys, thereby making it more engaging for them.

“Maybe it’s because I don’t come from a traditional teaching background,” Rachel explains. “I think that a student’s academic work is important, but it’s part of a bigger picture.” Rachel’s holistic perspective on remedial instruction and her interaction with students embodies LDS’ goal to impact our students’ lives beyond academics.

“I try not to look at things as strictly academic,” says Rachel, “even though the main objective is to support students in their academics. It’s important to remember [learning differences are] part of a bigger picture and to be supportive in other areas, like emotional support, social skills, executive functioning, and organization skills. Those are all parts of the picture I try to keep in mind to help build a more holistic approach, … [to build] rapport and trust with students because they’re not just coming to work on math or writing for an hour; it’s more than that.”

—Rie

_________________

Rie Stadnichuk (she/her) is the Digital Communications Specialist at LDS. Currently studying Communications and Economics at Simon Fraser University, she hopes to use this opportunity as a way of exploring meaningful work in the field. She is passionate about social issues and creating environments of inclusivity and open dialogue. Rie graciously lives and works on the unceded territory of the Syilx people.

Mission Makers: Alice—connecting with kids!

Mission Makers: Alice—connecting with kids!

If you have recently stepped foot inside our East Vancouver Learning Centre, you’ve probably met Alice, our friendly Support Coordinator.

Alice comes to us from England but completed her Linguistics degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She fell in love with Vancouver while studying abroad at the University of British Columbia. This is also where she met Melissa “Mel” Henderson, who is our Learning Support Manager. Mel encouraged Alice to apply for a position at the Learning Disabilities Society (LDS).

Alice’s bubbly personality, coupled with that classic British wit, has made her a terrific addition and a hit with the kids. “I think they see a kindred spirit in me,” Alice says, “because I don’t take things very seriously and I enjoy having interactions with the kids.”

At LDS, Alice is the Jill of all trades. At different times, she acts as the office space and Learning Centre coordinator, executive assistant, or program administrator. When asked if she is the glue that holds this organization together, she scoffs.

“No. I would absolutely not say that,” she jokingly insists. “I would say I’m like… no I don’t have a metaphor for what I am. I’ll work on it though.”

Another of Alice’s many tasks is maintaining safety and operations as we continue to navigate COVID-19. Recently, Alice and Mel were faced with the problem of physically distancing students and their family members for PEERS, our teen social skills program. “We were just moving furniture around this room trying to figure out how we can space all these chairs out and it’s just so weird cause that’s day-to-day life now.”

Alice has also been key in screening students for COVID-19 before they enter the Centre. “A lot of our families have probably met me because I jump out of the front door ask them fun questions about the pandemic. It’s weird that part of my job is to ask if their kid has diarrhea.”

This highlights Alice’s unique relationship with LDS families. “I might be the first voice that they hear from LDS in our onboarding [process]. They get a phone screening with me and I set them up to come into the Centre. I hear family stories and sometimes commiserate with them. …It’s supposed to be a ten-minute phone screening conversation, but it’s often a half an hour of us just chatting, which is great.”

There are still moments of connection to be had even in these difficult times, and Alice’s relationship with our students is truly special. When asked what she finds fulfilling about working with LDS, Alice says, “interacting with the kids. In the lead up to Christmas, I hadn’t been around kids who believed in Santa for a long time. One of them walked up to me and said, ‘Merry Christmas, Alice!’ I said, ‘Oh! Thank you.’ And then he proceeded to ask me if Santa would still come and if Santa would have to wear a mask. I said, ‘yeah, Santa watches Dr. Bonnie’s announcements, so I think he knows what to do.’”

—Rie & Sierra

_________________

Rie Stadnichuk (she/her) is the Digital Communications Specialist at LDS. Currently studying Communications and Economics at Simon Fraser University, she hopes to use this opportunity as a way of exploring meaningful work in the field. She is passionate about social issues and creating environments of inclusivity and open dialogue. Rie graciously lives and works on the unceded territory of the Syilx people.

Sierra Gemma (she/her) is LDS’ Communications and Fundraising Manager, working remotely from Lək̓ʷəŋən land on Vancouver Island. Sierra has a BA in History and Sociology and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. She enjoys community building, reading, and writing nonfiction, for which she has received a National Newspaper Award and a National Magazine Award. 

Mission Makers: Sierra—propelled by her experience as a parent

Mission Makers: Sierra—propelled by her experience as a parent

As the Communications and Fundraising Manager, I am often assigned the task of interviewing staff about their work. Its always interesting to hear people’s stories, to find out why someone chose to work at the Learning Disabilities Society (LDS). Today, I’m doing something a little different; I’m sharing what led me to LDS.

am the parent of a non-binary* child with a learning difference. While my child Riley** is now a successful adult, I still remember clearly what their elementary school years were like. Riley was a bright kid, but very disorganized. They made what seemed like careless mistakes that resulted in lower grades. Riley was anxious in group discussions and did not like to raise their hand in class. Riley’s teacher for both Grades 3 and 4 assigned a tremendous amount of homework, which became a tearful and exhausting experience for both of us. 

Fortunately, Riley’s Grade 5 Teacher recognized the disorganization as a possible sign of a learning disability. I could not afford a Psychological Education Assessment (PsychEd), which ran about $2,000 at the time. The teacher explained that while the school did finance PsychEds, every school was only given a small number of slots each year, and children with behavioural issues or multiple disabilities were prioritized. Since Riley was a sweet and shy child, they were never disruptive in class, and their teacher said it might take years to work up the waitlist if it even happened at all. 

Thanks to some financial help from the great-grandparents, Riley received a PsychEd that resulted in a specific diagnosis and began twiceweekly sessions with an LDS instructor who specialized in their disability. At that time, I was a low-income graduate student; we lived in city-owned, rent-controlled housing; and I did not have the income to access these critical services. LDS helped me apply for in-house and external bursaries that covered nearly all my child’s expenses. From Grades 5 through 7Riley received LDS individualized educational support. Riley went from being a C- student to being a B+ student. When Riley graduated elementary school, they won the award for the mostimproved student.  

Besides improved grades, my child experienced other outcomes from their LDS instruction. Over the three years that Riley attended sessions at LDS, their confidence, ability to advocate for themself in class, and organizational skills improved dramatically. Riley learned the tools they needed to be able to handle schoolwork and homework on their own. Riley’s grades continued to improve, and by their senior year of high schoolthey became an A/A+ student.  

Riley also came out of their shell. Riley joined the Drama Club and began performing in plays and film productions. Before my eyes, I watched my kid transform from an anxious child afraid to raise their hand in class to a confident teenager willing to get up on a stage! After I graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing and after Riley graduated from high school, we moved to Victoria, BC, where Riley now works and lives on their own.  

I never forgot what LDS did for my child. It was Riley’s remarkable transformation that inspired me to apply for a remote position with LDS when one became available. Riley is proof that LDS changes lives, and I wanted to help change lives too. 

Riley’s school years weren’t easy. I know what it feels like to be a low-income parent of a child with a learning difference. The difficult situation isn’t necessarily permanent, but when your kids need help, they need help nowregardless of whether you’re finishing a degree, or going through a rough patch, or—like many today—recently unemployed due to no fault of your own. 

Now, LDS offers even more programs to help low-income familiessuch as Family Coaching and UBC PsychEd Referrals. LDS has Pro-D, Spring Break, and Summer Break Camps that give working parents a safe and specialized place for their children when school is out. LDS has expanded their programs for teens to include RISE after School and PEERS Social Skills. 

If you think kids with learning differences deserve equitable, affordable access to learning support, no matter what their family’s financial situation is, please consider donating to RISE to the Challenge and help us raise $100K for 100 Kids who need our help now. 

————— 

*a non-binary person does not identify asor solely asa man or a woman and often uses they/them/their pronouns.  

**name changed to protect their privacy. 

.

Apply now for RISE TEAM! More Info!