A teacher and two aides who make Dawne Hammerschmidt’s son keen to go to school have been rewarded for their efforts.
Hammerschmidt says she has seen her son Dane flourish in Jodi Emo’s Grade 2 class at Mattie McCullough Elementary School as he never has before. With the help of alternating aides Tracy Swim-Lisk and Carol Pchelnyk, she says her son has been welcomed, fostered and appreciated by his helpers and, more importantly, his schoolmates.
For their efforts, Hammerschmidt nominated the school and the three women for a National Inclusive Education award given out jointly by the Canadian and Alberta Associations for Community Living. The women were presented with the award in Edmonton last week.
“They’re really good at reading him. They’re really good at figuring out ‘OK, when can we push him?’ when not to push him and respect what he needs, and making accommodations for him so that it’s not so obvious that he’s different, and that’s really well recognized,” said Hammerschmidt.
“It’s obvious that’s what they’re doing because he’s really well received by all of his peers and he’s not like the little weird kid at school or the little celebrity at school because he has Down syndrome and autism. He’s just one of the kids, so he’s actually getting friends that get it and want to help. He’s not verbal, but they all respect that he’s just different and he’s not treated like he’s a special case.”
Hammerschmidt moved from Grande Prairie last year and Dane, 7, is in his first year at Mattie McCullough. She said she was at first apprehensive about placing him in a new school with new helpers, but was immediately met with staff who were welcoming and willing.
“Not that he’s ever been unhappy to go to school, but here I mention school and he’s at the door waiting. Even if he’s sick or anything, he’s like ‘Let’s go!,’” said Hammerschmidt.
She added that the educators set attainable but challenging goals for her son while in class with his peers.
Red Deer Public Schools made inclusive education a focus three years ago, along with many other school jurisdictions. Whereas once high needs students would be segregated in special education programs, now, by and large, they are incorporated into standard classroom settings.
Deputy superintendent Stu Henry said the division’s goal with developmentally disabled students is to gradually withdraw educational assistant supports as the student becomes more and more independent. Some such students, he said, may not have any educational assistants assigned to them.