Mission Makers: Emma—giving back the support she received

Mission Makers: Emma—giving back the support she received

“Growing up, I knew I wanted to work with children and youth in a supportive capacity so they can receive the support I had too,” says Emma, a Remedial Instructor at LDS and this month’s Mission Maker.  

As someone who benefitted from recreational and community engagement programs as a child, Emma understands the importance of accessible support systems. In high school, Emma began volunteering in community support programs and enjoyed working with children. Her understanding, empathy, work experience, and education make Emma an excellent, adaptive instructor for our students. 

Emma has a Bachelor’s of Kinesiology and is currently studying for a graduate degree in Occupational Therapy, both from the University of British Columbia. She enjoys being able to apply what she learns in lectures at LDS, and vice versa—to use her experience as an instructor to inform her education.  

With experience at various nonprofits and children’s programs throughout Vancouver, Emma has a diverse background working with children of various ages and abilities. She worked for a community engagement project with children at a local Neighbourhood House. Emma also has experience within the Vancouver public school system as an Education Assistant and a Community School Teen Programmer. There she focused on teaching social-emotional skills and community building.  

Emma believes her previous experiences inform her teaching style at LDS by making content that is engaging and relatable to her students. At LDS, Emma feels that she can use her experiences and her skill set to help make a difference in her students’ lives. 

For example, Emma fondly remembers the time when one of her students asked her, “Do you know that the grocery store sells three cereal boxes for nine dollars?” At first, Emma thought this was an odd question, but when she was debriefing with the parent at the end of the session, the parent asked her child to bring the cereal boxes over.  

With the cereal boxes in hand, the student started reading the stories and the games on the back of the boxes. Emma realized that this was a huge turning point for the student. Previously, the student couldn’t read the packages or choose which cereal they wanted, but now they had a sense of autonomy and choice. “The student was so excited to able to understand what was going on in their environment. I got to see the skills being applied in real life,” says Emma. 

 “When I first learnt about LDS, I was drawn to how holistic they were,” says Emma. LDS focuses on academic outcomes, but there is an underlying focus on social-emotional skills and the child’s overall well-being. LDS also incorporates Assistive Technology and Speech-Language Pathology to best engage children in their learning. “I think having all of these evidence-based strategies and individualized supports for the students is so important,” says Emma. 

Emma also loves how important it is that LDS emphasizes affordability as part of its mission to be inclusive and accessible. LDS provides access to internal and external bursaries, so families who may not be able to afford remedial instruction can still access it. 

“It’s unfortunate that these kids are otherwise left behind because of something they can’t control like financial barriers,” says Emma. “LDS is able to remove these barriers that are preventing them from being successful in school, which is often tied to other skills like social-emotional and a sense of belonging or community.” 

—Rie 

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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. 

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!

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