A simple-to-do initiative gives students tools for life

Arranging for a professional cabinet maker to visit students at LINKS High School required little extra time on the part of their teacher. But for students with learning difficulties for whom the future is anything but clear, there’s no discounting the impact of such a positive experience.

Erika and Class

Erika Sullivan (front centre) with some of her students.

LINKS is a high school for students with special needs that teaches them to become more independent in their personal and work lives. It is located in the Ahuntsic area of Montréal and its students range from 12 to 22 years of age. All have intellectual disabilities or learning challenges that prevent them from completing the mainstream high school curriculum.

Woodworking is one of seven subjects Erika Sullivan teaches to students in three different streams: Life Skills, Cycle One and the Work-Oriented Training Path (WOTP). When she learned that Shaun Evans, the husband of one of her colleagues, was a professional cabinet maker, she invited him into her classes to teach Life Skills and Cycle One students how to use a hand planer. “We had one telephone conversation,” she says of the extra planning time this required.

“Shaun’s vast experience provided inspiration and real-life application of woodworking skills,” says Erika. “He explained how he had had difficulty in mainstream school, but luckily there are paths open for people who are active, need to be moving about, and like to problem solve on their feet.”

Shaun Evans watches a student’s progress.

Shaun Evans watches a student’s progress.

Difficulty in mainstream school

Erika appreciated the value that Shaun brought to the program. Even though her students may not end up as professional cabinet makers, what matters is that they were exposed to a different teaching style and learned a new skill, all the while practising their gross motor development. Among the Cycle One class, she knows there are students who will transition into the WOTP program and for whom this could be a feasible path. “These students can feel that their door of possibilities is closing, and here was a professional telling them, ‘This is something you can do if you work hard and get the training.’” That’s a welcome message for any young person to hear.

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