LDS Welcomes New Associate Director of Learning Support, Melissa Sager

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!

Meet Our New Executive Director, Rachel Forbes

Meet Our New Executive Director, Rachel Forbes

The LDS Board of Directors is excited to announce that after an extensive search process with very many qualified applicants Rachel Forbes has been appointed LDS permanent Executive Director. From the moment she stepped in as Interim Executive Director, Rachel’s impressive dedication and decisive, insightful leadership impressed both Board members and staff.

Rachel brings over 20 years of experience working with non-profits, charities, and companies in various capacities including as executive director, program lead, staff lawyer, and volunteer board member. With experience in governance, fundraising, strategy, project management, and communications, Rachel is well-poised to lead LDS through our next phase of strategic growth and beyond.



Tell us a little bit about your background. What first drew you to work in the non-profit sector? 

Fundamentally, I’m driven by my values and by what I consider to be positive impact on the world we share. While there are increasing numbers of for-profit companies who have a core commitment to values, I find the greatest alignment in the non-profit and charitable sector.

I believe the non-profit sector has taken on an increasingly heavy and often unrecognized responsibility for delivering the services, supports and products that allow our society to operate at a level we consider fair, just, and healthy. That responsibility is significant and serious. I find it an honour to work with and lead non-profits that are finding creative, innovative and systemic ways to make our communities and our world a better place.

Do you feel personally connected to the LDS mission? In what way? 

Of course, in many ways. I think the primary way I feel personally connected with LDS, especially now as a parent, is a feeling in my gut and in my heart—a passion—that every child has the opportunity to “learn how they best learn” and to be able to apply that in school and throughout their lives in whatever path they end up pursuing. I love that we work on an individual basis with each child who comes through our door to equip them with the skills and tools they need to navigate their world and to pursue whatever challenges and adventures they are most passionate about.  

How does an interim ED’s role differ from a permanent ED’s role, and what made you decide to apply for the permanent position? 

It’s different because now I don’t have to think about how to stay connected with LDS after my interim role ends! I now get to focus on working with and building our amazing team. I decided to apply for the permanent position because I couldn’t imagine not working with the LDS team to advance our mission. It grabbed me right away.

In the short time you’ve been at LDS, what has inspired you the most?

Every student of LDS is an inspiration. Every time I meet one of them, hear about their progress and see their smiling faces, my inspiration reignites and grows.

What most excites you about working at LDS? 

I think the most exciting thing is the potential that exists at every turn—the potential to work more deeply with some students, the potential to work with many more students (including in new and creative ways like our 2020 summer programming), and the potential to positively influence the lives of the children, youth and families that we work with on a daily basis.

What was your favourite subject when you were in school? 

That’s a tough one. I really loved math when it was taught by a specific teacher—he had an amazing way of making math a really gratifying problem solving endeavour. However, geography ended up being my favourite in the end. My dad was my teacher for geography in high school and I feel like he really made the Earth come alive for me. I am mesmerized by our planet’s powerful natural systems, the history that they carry, and the influence that they have over all living creatures.

Pencils, or pens, and why? 

Pens—blue ink, smooth medium point tips only. I especially love it when the ink is warm so I often put a pen into my pony tail to warm it up!

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