In just three months, Journeys Learning Program is making a difference for children with developmental and behavioural issues and their families in Central Alberta.
The classroom for students 11 to 18 years old that opened in September is a collaboration between five school jurisdictions — Red Deer Catholic and Public, Chinook’s Edge, Wolf Creek and Wild Rose — along with Alberta Health Services, Central Alberta Child and Family Services Authority, and Red Deer City RCMP.
Blackfalds parent Loretta Hullmann said her 13-year-old son was constantly asked to leave school and had to attend institutional programs elsewhere because of his complex needs.
“His disabilities leave him with the inability to process and (he) becomes unsafe for himself and others around him,” said Hullmann on Friday at the official launch of Journeys Learning, located at Red Deer Public Alternative School in downtown Red Deer.
“Here, my son is accepted for who he is. They provide a stable, safe and accepting place to be and to learn.”
He’s already made progress on his goal to control his anger.
“He’s my rose with thorns and that’s the reality of his world, yet he’s turning into a beautiful young man with the assistance of the wonderful staff here.”
Seven students attend Journeys Learning from Red Deer, Ponoka, Blackfalds and Red Deer County. There is room for 10 students.
Staff include four educational assistants and a teacher. Help is available from a children’s mental health therapist, counsellor, psychologist, and a social worker from Child and Family Services.
“The whole wrap-around model of education, community supports and family support is there and that’s why we’re having, I think, so much success,” said Jodi Goodrick, assistant superintendent of student services with Red Deer Public School District.
At school, these students can’t be in large groups. Their brains work differently so they don’t do well with too much sensory information from their environment, she said.
“The beauty of this space is the space. You’ll see the desks all lined up. They can’t handle anyone even standing behind them or sitting behind them or being behind them.”
Along with a strong focus on individualized programming, students have rooms they can use to calm themselves.
The goal of the program is to transition the youth back into the regular school system.
Journeys Learning cost about $500,000 to develop and run this year, and will operate on an annual budget of $300,000 to $350,000.
The school districts are each contributing $50,000. AHS and Child and Family Services are providing support staff, and RCMP supply a school resource officer.
“We have a five-year commitment and we hope to grow it and extend it outwards,” Goodrick said.
Alberta Human Services Minister Dave Hancock attended the official launch.
“This program for these children is unique in this area, but you could find similar but different programs in other areas. What we’re trying to do is to make sure that it’s possible for every community to decide what it is that they need for the specific challenges they have,” Hancock said.
“It’s not so much putting money into creating a new program as working together and working in different spaces.”