Each summer for many years now a group of students, under the guidance of Sociology Professor Dr. Jean Golden, has been spending several weeks assisting staff and students at the Every Child Counts School. This year, seventeen students are spending five weeks at the school during the period April 28 to June 1. In previous years the group has consisted of Early Childhood Education students but this year there has been a change. In addition to the seven early Childhood Education Students the group consists of ten sociology students. For the sociology students this experience is actually a part of the “International Community Engagement Course” for which they will receive a credit towards their academic degree.
The contribution at the school of the two different groups has been quite distinctive. The Early Childhood Education students spend their time in classrooms shadowing the teachers, actually helping to teach and also acting one on one in the sensory classroom. This is the seventh year in which the students have helped with the school fun day which is an end-of-year fundraiser and also with the students preparing to participate in the Special Olympics.
Each year the Ryerson ECS students, all of whom have had previous experience with special needs children, describe their experience at ECC as ‘amazing’.
“We build relationships with both students and teachers and it gives new perspectives to the work we have done in Canada. It is interesting seeing the different ways in which resources are used. With the younger children we are able to implement a lot of what we have learned with play-based learning.”
The Sociology students divided themselves into several groups, each tackling a specific project for the school. One group produced two documentaries in which students, teachers and graduates all assisted. The first was on ‘stigma,’ which ECC students face both in and out of school, and finding ways in which to get rid of this stigma. The second focused on strategies to give to the teachers in the community so that they will be able to detect students with disabilities. This documentary also aims at dispelling myths around various disabilities. A PowerPoint presentation was also prepared pointing out the different types of learning disabilities. This project came about because schools had asked for more help in discerning students with disabilities because not all disabilities are visible.
Various groups of sociology students helped with what they called “peripheral stuff.” Wherever teachers needed extra hands, they were there to provide the help needed. Some tackled tasks for Lyn Major, Principal of the school, while others worked on the yearbook and updated lists for donors who support children with scholarships.
Another major project the sociology students tackled was the gift shop. This is an important feature of the school in order to raise funds for the school. The students helped re-merchandise the gift shop and worked on personalizing the products. They also worked on ways to create more efficiency. They updated the computer system and made it simpler so that it is easier for students to deal with. Being able to work in the gift shop helps the students at the school with vocational training, learning how to work in a retail atmosphere.
The students completely redid the front of the Gift Shop, painting it in very attractive colors and even extending the decoration into the car park at the forefront of the store. They utilized car tires for attractive planters and also formed a little patio. This has made the front much more visible and welcoming to passersby, hopefully enticing them in to purchase some of the gift items from the store all of which are made by the students themselves. This will hopefully help bring in more funding for the school. The sociology students utilized students from ECC to help with all of this remodeling.
Even though the sociology students were not always in classrooms they always tried to interact with the ECC students. Each morning one of the Ryerson students worked on conflict resolution helping the children learn coping strategies and resilience through the yoga and mindfulness sessions that she offered.
Another project for the sociology students was fundraising and creating a donor pipeline. They worked on writing a grant proposal to get funds to turn the workshop and assisted living quarters which are under construction into completely solar entities. This will be a huge boost because it will allow the workshop to open five days a week instead of just two in the summer because presently it is too hot and electricity bills are too high to run AC.
This year the reactions of the Ryerson students to their time spent with the ECC kids echoed those of students from previous years. They all stated that they will be very sorry to leave and found the kids to be genuinely happy, kind and sharing.