A learning assistance teacher at Hunting Hills High School was recently honoured with the National Inclusive Education Award for Alberta. (Contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)

A learning assistance teacher at Hunting Hills High School was recently honoured with the National Inclusive Education Award for Alberta. (Contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)

Red Deer Public Schools staff recognized for commitment to inclusive education

National Inclusive Education Award for Alberta presented by Inclusion Canada and Inclusion Alberta

Eastview Middle School staff and a long-time learning assistance teacher at Hunting Hills High School have been honoured with the National Inclusive Education Award for Alberta for their commitment to inclusion of all students.

The award is provided jointly by Inclusion Canada and Inclusion Alberta to honour a teacher, school or school division whose commitment to inclusive education is exemplary and deserving of recognition.

The nomination for Eastview Middle School named teachers Hanna Delmont and Isaac Terrenzio, learning assistance teacher Lynn Lawton-Paquin, and educational assistants Jen Gouldie and Barb Yost. Hunting Hills teacher Lesley Young was also a recipient.

Young, who has worked in Red Deer Public Schools for 28 years, was nominated by a parent of a student at the school.

“I was shocked and humbled,” said Young about receiving the award.

“Our school operates under the idea of collective responsibility, so all of the students are the responsibility of all of the adults in the school. I am just a small part of the day of that particular student,” Young said about the student she asked to be the manager of a rugby team. He responded by being involved in every practice, every game and every team bonding activity last year.

“I have felt strongly about inclusion at our school and have worked hard to support that initiative in our school. I want all students to have access to the array of amazing opportunities offered at our school.”

Hunting Hills principal Darwin Roscoe said Young is deserving of the recognition.

“Lesley has been a massive contributor to student success throughout the duration of her career. Her child-centered approach has always been front and centre of her practice. Her work with inclusion spans well beyond students and their families and deep into our teacher’s pedagogy at the school,” Roscoe said.

Kevin Robertson, who was principal at Eastview at the time of the nomination, said he is proud of the entire school team. Eastview was also nominated by a parent of a student at the school.

“’It takes a village’ certainly rings true, and in this case, I am so proud of the work the school team has done and continues to do in partnership with parents. It really is a whole-team success,” Robertson said.

Delmont said as a fifth year teacher, she has had the privilege of working with a variety of diverse students.

“When we received this award, I was extremely proud of the collaborative connection that Eastview staff takes to help meet students’ needs. Providing a safe, caring and inclusive school environment allows all students and families to have a sense of belonging where each member can flourish in their own way,” Delmont said.

Terrenzio said receiving a national award in inclusive education is a tremendous honour.

“Being recognized for the dedication and hard work our staff puts toward ensuring that all learners, regardless of their abilities or backgrounds, have equal access to education and are supported to reach their full potential is very humbling. Continuing to strive towards equity and inclusion in education is important in creating a welcoming learning environment for all,” Terrenzio said.

Lawton-Paqui said she feels Eastview Middle, like so many others in Red Deer Public, supports all students with their academic, personal and social needs.

“I am proud to work in a school with talented, hard working and caring staff that go above and beyond to ensure that our most complex students are having a positive experience at school that includes learning curriculum, developing meaningful relationships and building skills to develop independence,” Lawton-Paqui said.

Yost added she was thrilled to hear of the award as Eastview is very deserving.

“Students with special needs should have the opportunity to learn, play and make friends with their peers,” said Yost of why inclusion is important. “The whole school benefits and learns from having all students included.”

Gouldie, who said she feels overwhelmed with emotion after receiving the award, agreed.

“Inclusive education is important because of the moments of empathy, compassion and acceptance that our students are able to witness and be a part of everyday. It is when a student needs to draw to get their story out of their head. Then randomly, a fellow student sits down beside them and word by word, marker by marker, draws out the story. It is when a student reaches out to another student for a hug and the embrace is accepted. It is when a student is curious about what is happening in the classroom next door then they are warmly welcomed with a ‘hello!’” Gouldie said.

“These types of inclusive moments impact how students view and experience the world as they walk through their lives.”

Eastview principal Darrin DeMale gives credit to his whole school team.

“We have some incredibly special adults that love being with our students on a daily basis. We feel fortunate to have a group of individuals that value their presence at Eastview and value being with them and growing life skills,” DeMale said.

Eastview vice principal Sue Merry said it is an honour to receive this award as a whole team.

“We see this award as recognition of how our school values inclusion in the forefront of the work we are doing with our students. It generally reflects the work of everyone at the school from our custodians to the principal. We are so proud of our teamwork,” Merry said.

Young, as well as the staff at Eastview, were honoured at the 2023 Inclusion Alberta President’s Reception last week.

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