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Galileo SIS team honoured for innovative puppetry program

Galileo SIS team honoured for innovative puppetry program
From left: Alain Tourigny, Vera Tronca, Simon Chang and Lisa Trotto have fun discussing materials for puppet decoration at Chang's showroom on March 24. Photo courtesy of the Simon Chang Foundation for Change
Montreal - Thursday, May 19, 2022

by Anita Szabadi-Gottesman

This year’s winners of the Simon Chang Difference Maker Award are a trio of Social Integration Services (SIS) teachers from the Galileo Adult Education Centre of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB): Vera Tronca, Alain Tourigny and Lisa Trotto. Sponsored by the Simon Chang Foundation for Change, this award honours individuals who are making an impact in the special needs community.

Over 100 neurodiverse adult students participate in the puppetry program as part of the theatre arts curriculum at Galileo. “We have full support from the EMSB for innovative programming, allowing our students to experiment and excel,” said Martina Schiavone, principal. “Having our teachers recognized with this award not only reinforces that students are not limited as to their disabilities but motivates our teachers to continually innovate and showcase their incredible work. Working with the puppets allows our students to take their in-class learning and express themselves, amplifying and transferring their acquired social and communication skills.”

Choosing fabrics, forming the puppets’ bodies and faces, learning to manipulate the finished product and teamwork are just some of the skills the students learn and perfect as part of the program. With his background in theatre alongside his special needs teaching credentials, Tourigny points out that working with puppets allows for full participation by students across all levels and range of disabilities. “We see our students gaining such a heightened sense of accomplishment and pride, and we are witness to so many transformative experiences.” Characters such as Nona Maria, Princess Fiona, Lady La-La and various animal puppets represent a cross-section of society and provide teaching moments covering topics from bullying and racism to current events. “We want to give our students pleasure and joy through the program, employing humour reinforcing their social skills,” said Tourigny. “The overriding goal of the program is to allow our students to keep growing, reaching their full potential to integrate as much as possible into general society when their time at Galileo is over.”

Trotto is touched that her dedication to her students has been acknowledged by this award. It has not only heightened her pride and confidence as an educator of special needs adults, but it has recognized her contribution to the special needs community. “I am most proud of being able to help my students reach their goals,” she said. “Being an advocate for diversity is synonymous with being a practitioner for change using courage, compassion and connection to my students.”

For Tronca, the puppetry initiative allows the teaching team to showcase the talents of the students by integrating them into numerous aspects of the program. “Our students are relentless, setting no limits as to what they are willing to learn,” she commented. “My passion for working with this incredible student population is watching them shine each step of the way.”

Last November, the puppet team was thrilled when Montreal fashion designer Simon Chang expressed interest in participating in the project. Recognizing the Galileo puppetry program has allowed Chang to merge his creative talents with his hallmark hands-on philanthropy. He recently welcomed Trotto, Tourigny and Tronca to his Montreal atelier. “Mr. Chang showered us not only with a huge assortment of materials, inspiration and creative ideas but he is truly an advocate for this population encouraging educators to become difference makers in their practice. We thank him for his recognition through this award,” said Trotto.

The Galileo Adult Centre puppetry program students perform not only for their fellow students and families at Galileo, but they have taken the show on the road to share with many mainstream EMSB schools. “We are so proud of our students spreading the word of inclusion and empowering them to the best of their abilities,” beamed principal Schiavone. “With recognition from Simon Chang and his foundation, we can keep showcasing the incredible work of our teachers and allow our students’ continued growth.”

“I was drawn to the puppet project immediately because of the joy that puppets can bring, and the power puppets have to help us communicate, lift our spirits and bring us all together,” said Chang. “I am thrilled to honour Lisa, Vera and Alain and help them further their work. I look forward to continuing to support them both personally, with creative work, and through the Simon Chang Foundation for Change. When we all work together, we can accomplish wonderful things.” 

If you have a Difference Maker to nominate, email us at info@inspirationsnews.com.

Anita Szabadi-Gottesman is a freelance writer, editor and public relations consultant in Montreal.