Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Community engagement forum: examples from Classroom and Community Support

At the community engagement forum on October 12, two pairs of presenters shared inspiring stories and examples of community engagement.

One pair was Lori Woods and Hope Taylor. In case you couldn't attend the forum, this is what they had to say.

Community engagement examples from Lori Woods

About Lori

It's hard to keep Lori Woods supplied with up-to-date business cards, so active has she been in building programming in the area of Classroom and Community Support. As CCS Coordinator, she was instrumental in launching and coordinating the Disability and Applied Behaviour Analysis as well as the Behaviour Intervention programs. With the recent addition of an employment support specialty in CCS, a decision was made to bring all those programs together in one department called Disability and Community Studies, of which Lori is the co-coordinator. She is also the BC Regional Campus Liaison for the University of Calgary Bachelor of Community Rehabilitation.

Here's what Lori told the group:

I reviewed some of the strong, reciprocal relationships the my colleagues and I have built within communities of practice in many areas related to disability and autism. We have relationships with child centres, schools, community living agencies, employment agencies and government ministries. Those relationships create opportunities for mutually beneficial practicums, service learning projects and committee involvement.

For over a decade now, 15-30 CCS students per year have gone into the community to do service learning projects that fulfill requirements for the diploma program's capstone course. The projects are meaningful for community partners. And they provide important learning opportunities for students, which help them "launch" from school back into the community.

A new partnership with the Ministry of Child and Family Development is a shining example of innovative community outreach that supports people with disabilities in family homes. Through this initiative, Douglas provides online autism training to behaviour interventionists working in rural and remote areas of BC. It's really gratifying to see that six of the thirty students who participated last semester decided to continue pursuing a Behaviour Intervention certificate from Douglas College.

Another noteworthy outreach initiative involves offering schools and agencies the entire CCS curriculum as a set of learning modules. Partners can choose their preferred 12 topics and learning outcomes, and have Douglas College deliver them to their employees, at their place of work, as a 6-credit course. From there, employees can continue their path towards a credential by challenging CCS courses via prior learning assessment. I'm really pleased that several students who have taken advantage of that opportunity, and completed our CCS diploma, have applied to the University of Calgary's Bachelor of Community Rehabilitation.

Service learning project example from Hope Taylor

About Hope

Hope Taylor is the parent of three Douglas College graduates and will soon become an alumna herself when she finishes her practicum for the Classroom and Community Support program. As a pro-active parent of a child with a developmental disability, Hope became deeply involved in the disability field as a volunteer and informal family advocate. That involvement led to work as an employment specialist for people with disabilities, with POLARIS Employment Services Society as well as Back in Motion. Her experience allowed her to gain credit for some of her CCS courses through prior learning assessment. Hope is now a college staff member in Adult Special Education, working as an instructional facilitator in the Transitions program, which is a partnership with School District 43.

Here is what Hope told the group.

I'd like to share the story of the service learning project I did as a CCS student, with British Columbia Association for Community Living (BCACL).

BCACL has several large scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings dating back to the 1950s. They document the history of the disability movement in BC.

My task was to analyse and index the scrapbooks. It was a huge job, and I only had time to focus on one, a collection of clippings from 1980-81. I created listings of names of people and organizations mentioned in the articles as well a list of the terms used.

Reviewing those news stories was emotionally draining and upsetting. My son, who has a developmental disability, was born in 1983. It was shocking to be reminded just how unenlightened society was at that time.

For example:
  • People were protesting the establishment of group homes in their neighbourhoods, citing a fear for the safety of their children
  • People with cognitive delays were described as mentally ill and violent
  • School boards were refusing to grant access to education
  • Adults were being referred to as “kids”, “childlike” and “patients”
  • The federal government was arguing about whether rights for people with disabilities should be included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then. For example, we’ve established the right to education, and we use more respectful, “people-first” language. But some of our victories, such as the right to self-determination, have to be continually re-won.

Those scrapbooks are a precious resource that must be preserved, studied and reflected upon. My project was only a start, and I'd like to others complete the work of analyzing the collection.

This project meant a great deal to me, as the mother of a son with a disability, as a person working in the field of employment services, and as a student. What I appreciated most was the opportunity to create something valuable for BCACL: a resource to help the disability advocacy movement remember and appreciate its roots, while keeping a firm grasp on its vision for the future.

I think of a quote from Maya Angelou: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

This service learning project was a labour of love for me personally and for the folks at BCACL who encouraged and assisted me. It was a small example of community engagement – a reciprocal relationship in which a student, faculty members and a community organization supported, learned from and taught each other.


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