Interview: Working with Students at the Ranch Erhlo Transition School

For this particular blog post, I interviewed my good friend Stacy Dighans regarding her experience working with youth at the Ranch Ehrlo Transition School.

What is the Ranch Erhlo Transition School?

Ranch Ehrlo Society has developed unique and innovative programs to assist children and youth.  Its mission is: “To provide quality programs to vulnerable youth in Saskatchewan and beyond, through social treatment and advocacy, of benefit to the individual, family and community” The culture at Ranch Ehrlo:  “Recognizes the dignity and personal value of vulnerable youth; builds a caring and nurturing environment for people; manages behavioural problems through trust and relationships; works to strengthen families and communities; and maintains a high level of competence throughout the organization.”

     The Ranch is a place where students of all diverse cultures, backgrounds, needs, abilities, etc, come in order to better themselves. These children are vulnerable because of situations they have been in. The Ranch is a place where they can escape, get better and then transition back into “mainstream” schools. These students have been turned away by many educators and thrown into the pile of hypothetical “unsuccessful children.” What we have done with these students is a success story in its own. The Ranch as created a new life for these children. 

What can you tell me about the students at the Ranch?

     The majority of the students at Ranch Ehrlo find themselves in oppressive situations. Most of them come from the minority, whether it is because of culture or ability level. One thing that I did notice was the high number of Aboriginal students in the Ranch Ehrlo Transition School. Colonialism has resulted in many difficulties within the Aboriginal communities in Saskatchewan. Many Aboriginal families are still suffering the effects of residential schools, which left many not trusting schools so it is very difficult for these students to be in situations where they are taught by white middle class teachers. Moreover, the impact of colonialism led to Aboriginal people being settled in areas where there was little inclusion in the European economic system. All of this has led to European people feeling “superior” and First Nations student and people feeling “inferior.” This has grounds for anyone to feel unwelcome when in the presence of a white teacher. As for ability levels, students with exceptional needs have always been marginalized and we are trying to create inclusivity to be able to bring the minority back into the classroom. However, in the case of the students at the transition school there are so many more reasons that they may be there. We can’t just judge by the surface, we need to know the background in order to know the real roots behind feeling oppressed. Ranch Ehrlo is a part of the wider Canadian and Saskatchewan society, which was founded on racist beliefs that Aboriginal people are “less than” white people. The high number of Aboriginal students in Ranch Ehrlo point to the fact that we have not moved beyond the racist beliefs of the past and that our society is still functioning on the pretence that the white way is the right way. On the surface we have become a more accepting society but the deep-rooted racism still exists.

Did you ever experience something like this where you grew up?

     I grew up in a very racist home, where my dad and grandfather would joke on a regular basis about First Nations people. Even though we seem to be an accepting society, racism is the way most of us were raised. We have to make conscious decisions to change the way we raise our children, educate our students and present our beliefs in society.  However, I disagree with the fact that we think just because they are in Ranch Ehrlo, they must be First Nations because I say many students that were from diverse cultures. In fact, in Weyburn, where I grew up, we have a school called the “Bridge School” which is exactly like the transition school in ways that these are students coming from criminal backgrounds, abusive homes, etc. The point I am making is that these students in the “Bridge School” are all white. Society is not marginalizing these students based on their race; they are being marginalized based on their situations.

Where do you now stand on the importance of this experience?

     This experience has been an eye opener for me. It is very important to understand that as educators we will be exposed to a variety of children, some in the same situations as these at the Ranch. It is important to understand that these students do not learn the same way as others because of their past experiences with schooling. It is also important to create an imbalance in our own lives with the frustration of working with these students, so we are able to appreciate the privileges we do have and use those to adapt our teaching to accommodate all learners. The skills I have developed are unexplainable because of the amount of emotion that has been attached to these weeks. I came into this thinking I would be another white teacher coming in to try and help these children read. I now know that I did so much more. I was that ear to listen, I was that arm to hold onto, I was that shoulder to cry on and I was that friend in need. My professor said that this experience was about learning how to teach different students, but I think this experience was learning how to appreciate diversity. I obtained all the skills that I sought out to acquire. Critical thinking, self discipline and management skills, ability to adapt certain programs to meet the needs of the student, taking risks, reasoning and understanding were the skills I wanted to get out of this experience. I did that and I can take those skills and use them in my future classrooms if and when I get students who have had similar backgrounds to those of the children at the Ranch.

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To Spill or Not to Spill, That is the Real Question of Teaching

     Teachers are held in professional esteem 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. I say go ahead and share your personal life with your students because teachers should never be in the position where something so unprofessional that it needs to be hidden. All secrets come out even though we think they are buried in the depths of the world. I remember wanting to be a teacher since I was a young child and I never really considered the teacher code of ethics that needs to be remembered when preparing one’s self to be an educator. In high school, I had no problems going out and having some “fun” with my friends and I remember having these  images of me indulging in an alcoholic beverage or two posted on Facebook, however, once I was accepting to the Faculty of Education, these posts were permanently deleted; or so I thought.  These so called horrible things, which have been brought forth in many situations where teachers have been “slapped on the wrist,” have the ability to come forth at any time from anyone. Unless you are Californian teacher, Amy Beck and have some serious skeletons in your closet, such as sleeping with your 14-year old students; then you should have no issues with sharing your personal life with your students.

     Teachers expect to know a great deal about students and their personal lives, or else how do we create that relationship with our students. During internship, I knew what every one of my students did on the weekend and they knew exactly what I did on the weekend. We created a safe environment where we could share this information with each other. Of course, there is a line and a boundary as to how much the students need to know about. My students knew about my family life and my social life, they knew about my high school days and my elementary life. I knew about their families and interests, they told me who they were crushing on, and who they were being bullied by. This sounds like a great friendship between student and teacher, but that was far from the case, yes my students and myself were friends but I was there teacher before that. I was able to use the personal lives of myself and my students in order to teacher them beyond the curriculum. There are many things that teachers can use as “teachable moments.” One example that took place in my internship, which I addressed using my personal experiences, there had been a great amount of bullying in which my entire class had been involved with in a certain way and no matter what I said, they did not understand the long term consequences of bullying. I put this into perspective using an example from my high school years when I was personally bullied and suffered from some major psychological issues because of this. This personal information is not necessary for students to hear, however at that time, it allowed me as an educator to use my life as a teaching tool.

     Again I state that there are boundaries and it is our responsibility to create those boundaries with our students because we do have a professional code of ethics to follow as well as the Education Act, however, I say seize the moment when you can bring in your personal life to teach your students. Again, if there is anything in your hypothetical closet that cannot be shared with your students and fellow co-workers, then chances are you shouldn’t be a teacher.

Learning From Those We Label- Schizophrenic Students

     For an EPSY assignment this semester I watched the movie “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russell Crowe. I remembered having to watch it in my grade 12 psychology class but could not recall the details or specifics. “A Beautiful Mind” is the true story of Nobel Prize winner John Nash. Nash was an extremely smart mathematician at Princeton University during the late 1940’s. When first introduced to Nash he seems very withdrawn from society and very socially awkward. He also seems to have some repetitive behaviour. For example, he rarely maintained eye contact with an individual, he was always putting the back of his hand to his forehead, and seemed very agitated and tense much of the time. Throughout the movie you are introduced to other characters such as Nash’s best friend, Charles, Charles’ neice, and William Pratcher, who works for the government. Nash turns out to be Schizophrenic and these key characters are actually just figments of his imagination. The rest of the movie is the treatment he underwent, becoming medicated, relapse, and the stress it put on his marriage before setting his mind on ignoring his imaginings. The movie ends by Nash speaking at the awards ceremony where he won the Nobel Prize. It is still apparent that he sees his friends; however, they no longer contact or bother one another.

     After concluding the movie I began to think about disabilities and how society perceives them. Many people perceive a disability with being “dumb” or incapable, when in contrast, John Nash was an incredibly smart individual who had a mental disability; Schizophrenia. As a result, I perceive disabilities differently now too. It is very easy to get pulled into the bulk of societal thought without really realizing that your thoughts are no longer yours, but you have taken on the general idea of the public. I never assumed anyone was “dumb” if they had a disability; however I did assume they were incapable of something, whether it be physically, academically, or mentally. Reflecting on it now, I find that is very unfair to assume of someone. It is not that they are incapable; they simply are challenged by something most people take for granted. For example, in the case of John Nash, it was a challenge for him to differentiate between the real and the imagined. Many people we label with learning or mental disabilities are extremely smart or capable of learning, yet no one gives them the credit they deserve because it is not necessarily what is valued, especially in an academic setting. Although, for every rule there is an exception. John Nash seemed to be the exception. He was incredibly smart, given credit for it, and able to build a relationship and have a family, whereas most people with Schizophrenia are not able to learn the same curriculum as the students who aren’t facing any disabilities and have a lot of trouble socially, especially with building emotional relationships.

     To be an educator of a student with Schizophrenia the teacher would have to put themselves in that individual’s shoes, recognize how difficult their everyday life must be, and make a plan to address that student’s specific needs in your classroom. As the classroom teacher of that student, it would be your responsibility to research Schizophrenia and know what this mental disability entails, what causes symptoms, types of emotional or psychological problems that could accompany it, and finally, treatment plans for the student. As an educator to this young student, it means being sympathetic, empathetic, and building a strong and trusting relationship with that student. Most of all, being an educator to a young student with a disability means being flexible and able to implement adaptations for that student. While trying to come up with what it means to be an educator to this type of student, I decided to research it on the internet. What I found was many simple adaptations teachers could make for students with this condition. Some of the adaptations to be made by the educator with a Schizophrenic student could be: calling a meeting as soon as the teacher finds out they have a student with a unique mental disability, such as Schizophrenia. Present at the meeting should be the teacher, any other teachers who will be working with the student, school psychologist or therapist, school social worker, parents, and the student, if they are old enough. The point of the meeting would be to develop in Personal Program Plan (PPP) for this student. Many Schizophrenic students need adapted programs, including curriculum content, such as learning from a different textbook, using graphic organizers, or mnemonic devices. Seeing as many individuals with Schizophrenia have trouble organizing their thoughts or recalling content and memory, graphic organizers and mnemonic devices are often extremely helpful. Stress is known to trigger symptoms of Schizophrenia, therefore, as the teacher it would be important to provide a quiet, calm, stress free environment for the student to learn in as often as possible; even providing direct instruction there would be helpful. After the PPP is set and the teacher has set a useful classroom environment for that student, it is important to set up academic and social goals between that student and the teacher. The teacher should encourage the student to participate in extra-curricular activities with peers at school. The last, and possibly, most obvious adaptation a teacher could make for that student would be to adapt the way the student is graded. If the student is on a PPP, than it would only seem logical that they would not be graded on a traditional scale. Seeing as many Schizophrenic individuals have a hard time organizing thoughts it would seem hardly fair to give them a written test and ask them to, “do their best”. Rather, these students should be tested on hands on experiences or what they are able to explain to you and base their mark on the connections they are able to make inside their own heads.

     After I finished watching the movie I decided to read up on Schizophrenia on the internet and I was very shocked by what I read regarding some of the behaviours these individuals might display and the symptoms that may occur. For instance, I couldn’t imagine hearing voices telling me to hurt myself or others, or seeing things that were not there. This experience will influence my own teaching because I never realized how invasive and intense Schizophrenia could be. As I was sitting here trying to put myself in that mindset, I found I was just scaring myself. I can’t imagine how someone with Schizophrenia may actually feel. I have a friend who used to teach and he had a student who entered the year with no symptoms and then all of a sudden started talking about a group of friends from a different school and eventually facts weren’t adding up and the individual was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. My friend said he felt very helpless at that point because this young man was being told he has a mental disorder and he thought he was perfectly sane. Again, I could not imagine the struggle that poor individual was experiencing. However, throughout my own teaching practice I will strive to not label an individual with having a disability and therefore, being incapable. I will do my absolute best to make accommodations for every student that needs them and address their strengths, rather than their weaknesses. If I ever have a student with Schizophrenia, I feel I will have a better idea of how to help that student. I have always wanted to strive to be the best teacher I can be. I feel frustrated and inadequate if I am not succeeding. Many students with disabilities feel this way too. I will always do my best to think of my students with disabilities as being challenged by one or more things, yet extremely able in others. For example, a wheelchair ridden boy with Cerebral Palsy may not be able to communicate with you through words but he may be the only one who can make you smile on a day when it seems like the world is going to cave in.

There is a fantastic campaign brought forth by the Center for Persons with Disabilities that focuses on seeing the “ability not the disability.” This is one idea that I know I want to take into the classroom because even though one student may not be capable of doing one thing, they are able to do something. Focussing on what the students can do can have so many positive results in the end. Students are able to be successful and they can create self-worth based on completing and doing well on things that they are able to accomplish. Students will gain the confidence to try things that may come unnatural to them. These students who never got the chance to take risks will have the confidence to try new things and they will have the ability to not be disgruntled by their failure. Alongside, Scope has also introduced a campaign surrounding the idea that “Disability means Possibility.” These two campaigns go hand in hand because it is introducing society to the idea that disabilities won’t hold back students like previously assumed. This is the time that people with exceptionalities can flourish and produce endless opportunities for them to succeed.

     Being aware of the barriers placed on students is the key to understanding how to create inclusiveness. In the past I was scared of students with disabilities because I was unaware of who they were and what they had to offer. I was young and naive and I was easily persuaded into believing the views that society had placed on these students. But as I previously stated, understanding is the way we can change and being introduced to certain mediums that portray the achievements and the appreciation for students with exceptionalities is the beginning to being able to understand what I need to do, and what society needs to do to see change happen. 

     Society has labelled many people based on what some medical doctor or psychologists or whoever has deemed these particular people to be. Many barriers have been placed in order to hold these students in the borders of their disability. It is our jobs as teachers to break down these barriers and demolish these assumed borders or labels that have been produced. No student should be confined to the idea that they can or cannot accomplish something because some book says so. Students with exceptionalities have all the opportunities to become and have become exceptional people; it is our job to be accepting of that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhKMouRaWcY

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtSJl2rmKtg

Internet Sites I read from:

Pub Med Health-Schizophrenia

How To Teach Schizophrenic Students

Teaching Schizophrenic Students

Creative Response to UCLA Racist Video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zulEMWj3sVA&feature=related

     I have to give it to this gentleman. This was a very creative response to a very hurtful and unethical video. Many people would have gotten angry or wanted to take “vengeance” in other ways such as, making their own hurtful videos. However, instead of sinking to the same level, he took a higher road and made a comical response. It is still evident that he was offended and didn’t appreciate what was said at all but instead of using discriminatory slang or hurtful words, he made fun of her in other ways. For example, he made comments about her studying patterns or the amount of make up she wears. Also, he made fun of his own language during the chorus where he sings “ching chong- it means I love you, ling long- I really want you, ting- tong I really don’t know what that means”. I found his response to be quite mature. Instead of making up his own rude comments, he pulled from comments that she made herself such as how her mom raised her to be this polite American girl, which is not evident in her rant.  Even though this was a funny song meant to make people laugh, the underlying message of how inappropriate and hurtful this video was is still evident.

UCLA Racist Asian Rant- Alexandra Wallace

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Johj5WEYzZo

       As many people already know, this is the youtube video of Alexandra Wallace having a “small” mental break down about Asians in the library at UCLA. I was very surprised when I saw this video. First of all, who in their right mind finds this acceptable to say in public at all? Second of all, why would you tape it, show your face, and then broadcast it for the entire world to see? If this is something you really need to say and get off your chest, then it should be done with a few people close to you who you really trust, as opposed to the entire world. It is understandable that sometimes you just need to say something, everyone has these moments. That is human nature; however, there are still appropriate and inappropriate ways to express your frustration. This video, was clearly an inappropriate demonstration. Alexandra Wallace unjustly attacked an entire ethnic group of people without warning. If the shoe was on the other foot and someone broadcast a video attacking all the blond girls at UCLA or white people in general, I can imagine she would have taken some offence to that.

     I truly believe the school did the right thing by addressing her video and removing her from the school. I am in an Educational Administration class where I have learned that this particular video would technically be qualified as bullying other students in an elementary or highschool setting. If a school does not act upon bullying, they can be charged by the courts for not acting on the student’s behalf. School’s are required to provide a safe schooling experience for all students. However, seeing as this is a university setting, it cannot be handled in quite the same way. Seeing as students in college and university are adults, it is more of an attack on these student’s human rights. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that you have the right to not be discriminated against for any reason. Alexandra Wallace posting this video and making those comments would clearly be recognized as discrimination and she can therefore be charged with a criminal offence. Also, in the Saskatchewan Guide to School and Law, it states firmly in the student duties that “students are required to observe standards with respect to the rights of other persons”. Not only does this include their other classmates but every single person they come into contact without throughout their day; teachers, administrators, educational assistants, volunteers, parents, etc. I understand that the circumstances are not exactly the same. This incident took place in a university in the United States and I am speaking of Canadian rules for education and schools in an elementary or high school setting. However, the basics rules and expectations remain the same no matter where you attend school or at what level.

Tech Task #9: Six Word Stories

I chose this photo because in my EPSY class we are focusing on students with exceptionalities. Although many people see exceptionalities as either a physical or mental difficulty associated with that child or a child being incredibly advanced for their age, I disagree. I think many children have many exceptionalities, some being more extreme than others. I interned in a community school in Fort Qu’Appelle and I met all kinds of students who live in conditions that are not conducive to healthy growth. This photo reminded me of some of those students.

This photo resonated with me because I absolutely hate violence and intentional hurt towards others. I remember everything about this day right from the moment I woke up and walked downstairs to where my dad was watching it to going to bed that night with my dad still watching the coverage of this devastation. So many  innocent people died this day and for what? What was really accomplished? Hurt? Pain? War? Lives of way too many being cut way to short? Families being torn apart? Doesn’t really seem worth it to me.

Tech Task #5: Priceless

 

This is my “Mastercard” commercial. It is about my journey through gymnastics. Enjoy!