The mission of schools “to instruct, socialize and qualify” is a tall order that only intensifies when students have significant physical, intellectual or behavioural issues. Here’s how a group of RSB educators put their heads together to give non-mainstream students in two separate programs a chance to help each other.
This is a story about looms. It tells how one set of students is learning to use them and develop their life skills, and how another set of students is learning to make them and reconnect with others. GOAL is involved because both sets of students are discovering new abilities and strengths within themselves. But first some background to put things in context.
REACH’s in-school workshop
The students who need the looms are at the Riverside School Board’s REACH, a Saint-Lambert-based school that serves students with significant developmental delays. REACH’s 47 students range in age from 5 to 21.
The young people in question are 12 to 17. Some have conditions that preclude their going on work placements outside the school, while others are developing their work skills in preparation for future placements. Teachers Lisa Dawes and June Bastos coordinate an in-school workshop to help them develop autonomous skills and partner with the community.
Currently, they cut plastic milk bags into strips and weave these into durable sitting/sleeping mats. Their plan is to donate them to a mother-tot reading program in the nearby Community Learning Centre, as well as to a shelter for the homeless. They have the whole production process organized from raw material to finished product. Until now, the school had just two large looms, purchased at a cost of $100+ each, and one small loom made by a volunteer. The students need more small looms to create placemats that they will be weaving out of strips of donated cloth.
The students who are making the looms are part of a Riverside drop-out prevention program called “Connections,” that is housed at Centennial Regional High School in Greenfield Park. This program was established to intervene intensively with students who have difficulty progressing in school because of a pattern of negative behaviour and truancy.
Through individualized teaching and multidisciplinary support, Connections aims to bring these young people to a point where they are ready to learn, manage their behaviour and act in a way that is socially appropriate.
Annie Beauregard is a spiritual and community life animator for both REACH and Centennial, in addition to several other schools. “Because of my workload, anything I can do to involve two schools working together, I do,” she says. So when she learned about REACH’s need for more looms, she approached Patrick Quinlan, a woodworking teacher at Centennial, to ask if he could teach the Connections kids the skills required to build them.
Patrick agreed. They started slowly in the workshop, making plant hangers that the students sold at the school’s annual Christmas craft fair. Then, using funds borrowed from their profits, he and Annie took a few students to Home Depot and Canadian Tire to search out materials for the looms. That, in itself, was noteworthy, as Annie explains: “These are the kids who were never allowed to go on field trips. The privilege of going on an outing was always taken away because of inappropriate behaviour.”
“These people are counting on us. They have confidence in us.”
Giving back to society
The students have now learned to operate a router, band saw and sanding machine. “There’s a lot of groaning till they actually get into it,” says Patrick, “but when they can focus for a solid hour, it’s really good for their self-esteem. The idea is to help them learn to connect with, and give back to, society.”
They are also learning to persevere, notes Annie. “REACH drew up a contract for them to provide the looms. I told them: ‘These people are counting on us. They have confidence in us.’ ‘Yes, Miss, we’re going to do this,’ they replied.”
The students from Connections kept their word and the looms were delivered to REACH at the end of February. “Those looms will make it possible for the kids at REACH to expand their current project and they are saving the school a lot of money,” says Annie. “I hope the Connections students realize that they have done something great for someone else.” Patrick agrees that it is crucial for them to see their efforts recognized first hand so that they can understand the positive impact they can have on their community. “This kind of project is an opportunity not only to develop technical skills, but also to contribute to the quality of life of others. I cannot think of a better way to promote personal growth.”
The REACH teachers were so happy with the new looms that they have placed a second order. Eventually, everyone hopes to bring both sets of students together so that the ones from REACH can teach their peers at Connections how to use the looms.