There’s more than one educational pathway at Shuswap Middle School.
Learning resource teacher Angela Cumming provides appropriate programming to meet the abilities and needs of those who need extra support through a Pathways Program.
“Every student can learn and grow,” she says, noting she is a firm believer in integrating students with special needs into regular classrooms. “It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you can learn from your social peers. Even if you have a special need there’s so much value in being with your peers.”
Cumming says the integration is also important for the other students to be exposed to those with unique needs.
“By inclusion, kids with special needs learn way more than they would in an excluded setting, and the rest of the students learn about special needs and they’re less scared because they understand,” she says. “So they become helpful peer helpers, and it’s amazing just to see the interaction.”
While they may be doing different work, being in the same room is vitally important to her students and, Cummings says, the teachers love seeing pathways students succeed.
Some of her students are able to stay in academic classes such as socials and science, where they might do a parallel program that gives them the basics and allows them to take part in hands-on and visual aspects of the classes.
“They may not learn the complex abstract things,” says Cumming, who teaches fundamental skills and tailors individual educational pathways to suit each of her students.
She says the acceptance they receive from the rest of the student population is extremely important to them.
“That might seem like a small thing to some, but it’s so big for the kids to be accepted.”
Her students are not just learning in classrooms. Some of them participate in the Explorations program that includes sewing, cooking, woodwork and arts classes as well as PE in many cases.
And her 14 students enrolled in this year’s Pathways Class take care of recycling in the school and grow fruits and vegetables in the large courtyard, which they also maintain.
This year, the Pathways Class is also taking up the challenge to be part of the B.C. Green Games.
BC Green Games is a province-wide competition for kindergarten to Grade 12 students, designed to encourage action, enable sharing and reward and celebrate the green efforts of schools in B.C.
At Shuswap Middle School, Pathways students have created an extensive garden at the front as their entry into the Green Games.
Nico’s Garden Centre helped them design a garden plan on a computer and supplied plants at a discount.
“My students love being outside, hands on and making things nice,” Cumming says. “We have fun and we’re just a really big piece of the school because we’re making the school a nicer place to be.”
Pathways students decorate a small courtyard for seasonal occasions and have grown strawberries and potatoes in the big courtyard.
Cumming’s students also have a place to go when they need to calm down for a while.
A sensory room is outfitted with a number of bins containing items for hands on projects and a calm room outfitted with a hammock, where they can relax a bit.
“We’re finding these kids need it more than the others,” says Cumming, pointing out research is currently underway on making the means to release pent-up energy available to all students in the district.
While it would not be easy to introduce a “calm down” program into regular classrooms, Cummings says a group of learning resource teachers are exploring sensory regulation in the classroom.
“As teachers, many times we expect kids to sit down and stay quiet while the teachers are moving around,” she says. “It’s not how we were meant to be, we were meant to move, and that’s how we learn, by moving.”