Transitions North classroom teacher Mike Dean and education assistant Nicole Downey with students diagnosed with FASD at Keewatin Public School. Dean and Downey are working with the students to help develop the emotional cues to cope in a regular classroom. SHERI LAMB/Daily Miner and News
Keewatin Public School’s Transitions North program and its teachers received high praise for their work last month during a conference in Toronto.
Mike Dean, Transitions North classroom teacher, and his education assistant Nicole Downey, were humbled when they received a standing ovation after presenting at March’s Biennial Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Ontario Network of Expertise (FASD ONE) Symposium.
“They were blown away in Toronto at the progress of these kids and I get a little emotional when I think about where the students are now compared to where they were when they came in,” said Dean.
Transitions North is a provincially-funded program being undertaken through the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board at Keewatin Public since September 2014. They started with three students and integrated a fourth into the classroom about four months ago, while at the same time working on the transition of another student back into a regular classroom.
“When she came to us and she was being sent home a lot of days and was having major temper tantrums and she just couldn’t cope with the busyness of a regular classroom,” said Dean. “She didn’t have any control of her own emotions. It was a long road, but we focused on relationships and on her emotional well being.
“She’s a different little girl today,” added Dean. “Her independent work has excelled. When she first came to us she couldn’t focus for more than a couple minutes, now she can hone in on an assignment and she can sit and do independent work for 40 minutes. The mainstream classroom teacher is very happy with her in the program, she’s focused and takes directions.”
Students with FASD often have issues with impulse control when it comes to reacting to situations. In order to work with children with FASD, many of whom are also diagnosed with ADHD or attachment disorder as well, takes patience, flexibility and lots of understanding.
In order to eliminate distractions for their students – a Transition North classroom has minimal decorations or student work on walls, are painted a calming blue colour and have spaces for “quiet time” when students need a moment to refocus their emotions. Students follow the same academic curriculum as those in the regular classroom, just with an increased focus on their emotional learning and well-being.
“A lot of it has to do with building self regulation strategies, so things like deep breathing,” said Dean.
The goal of the program is to develop functioning adults who can contribute to society rather than being tied up in the judicial system where too many FASD persons end up.
“Being happy and having a good network of people surrounding you through the different stages of life is incredibly important when talking about people living with FASD,” said Dean. “It’s a brain injury and these kids, these people, didn’t choose for this to happen, they were born with it and they’re living with it and we need to support them as much as we can.”
Dean added it’s not just a Northern Ontario problem, at the symposium he learned there were classrooms in other Ontario school districts for FASD students, but the problem has a worldwide scope.
“I’d like to see more of these classrooms and I’d like to see school boards and teachers around the province learning from it and implementing some of these strategies in a regular stream program, not just in the Transitions North program because these are things that can be adopted in the mainstream classroom,” said Dean.