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Teaching pre-work skills within a rehabilitative setting empowers students

Leaders on Wheels
Jordan Paquette, left, and Nicholas Gagné prepare to fill cookie jars with dry ingredients at the Mackay Centre’s Satellite Class at Westmount High School in January 2022. Photo: Claudia De Luca
Montreal - Thursday, May 19, 2022

by Wendy Singer

This school year, students attending the Mackay Centre and Philip E. Layton (PEL) schools of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) participated in a project to create a school-based model of teaching work skills to students with significant and multiple disabilities within a rehabilitative framework. 

Led by Sarah Lynch, special education consultant and Claudia De Luca, occupational therapist, both at the EMSB, the project included students aged 13 to 21 in two high school classes – one at Mackay and one at PEL – and the Mackay Satellite class at Westmount High School, also known as “Leaders on Wheels.” Students aged 13 were included so they could begin developing job-related skills such as positive attitude towards work, self-advocacy, responsibility, teamwork, conflict resolution and problem-solving at an early age.

Lynch explained that these students don’t have the same opportunities as others. Some present with physical and/or intellectual disabilities, some with accompanying sensory impairments in hearing or vision. “We worked with the rehabilitation teams so that students could participate physically. 

This school year, students attending the Mackay Centre and Philip E. Layton (PEL) schools of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) participated in a project to create a school-based model of teaching work skills to students with significant and multiple disabilities within a rehabilitative framework. 

Led by Sarah Lynch, special education consultant and Claudia De Luca, occupational therapist, both at the EMSB, the project included students aged 13 to 21 in two high school classes – one at Mackay and one at PEL – and the Mackay Satellite class at Westmount High School, also known as “Leaders on Wheels.” Students aged 13 were included so they could begin developing job-related skills such as positive attitude towards work, self-advocacy, responsibility, teamwork, conflict resolution and problem-solving at an early age.

Lynch explained that these students don’t have the same opportunities as others. Some present with physical and/or intellectual disabilities, some with accompanying sensory impairments in hearing or vision. “We worked with the rehabilitation teams so that students could participate physically. 

We asked, ‘When someone doesn’t have control over their body’s movements, how can we make this a worthwhile learning experience?’ We worked with the strengths of the teachers and the interests of the students.”

Rehabilitation professionals consulted were from Programme de Réadaption dans les Écoles Spécialiséees at the Centre de Réadaptation Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay, CIUSSS Centre Ouest de l'Île de Montréal.

Lynch, De Luca and Andrea Prupas, assistive technology consultant with the EMSB, introduced a “cookies in a jar” project to Leaders on Wheels teacher Rosemarie Sondola and her students. The Leaders have been making and selling spice rubs and sauces since 2014 and donating proceeds from sales to the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation. Together, they chose products, determined the quantities needed and shopped. “We were able to give the students more ownership over their learning,” said Lynch. “They got involved in the production and the business sides.” Workstations were evaluated to ensure that students could work comfortably and efficiently. 

Students learned how to create and send an order form using Google Forms, and monitor and track sales. “The project brought our Leaders on Wheels fundraising initiative to a new technological level,” said Sondola. “It was a great learning experience and one that we will duplicate for all our fundraising initiatives.” 

One PEL class is creating a cookbook filled with recipes that they learned. The book will include braille and be partly tactile. “The students have low or no vision, and once they are prepared, they can mix, pour and reach,” said Lynch. “The skills the students learn provide them with independence. The cookbook will show families what their children are learning and what they are capable of doing.”

Teacher Beata Strzyz’s senior class at Mackay painted and decorated a selection of cards. Once completed, each artist added their own signature. “We are extremely proud of the final look of our abstract artwork,” said Strzyz. Proceeds of card sales were donated to the C.A.R.E. Centre.