A local school has picked up a prestigious award for its ongoing support of a student with Tourette syndrome.
Hastings School, located at 95 Pulberry St., has won the national Exceptional School Award from the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada.
The award is given out annually to a Canadian school that has "demonstrated an exemplary commitment to accommodating students with Tourette syndrome," said St. Vital resident Shari Loewen, who nominated the school for the award.
Two years ago, Loewen’s son, Evan, now nine, was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome — a neurological disorder characterized by symptoms including involuntary, rapid, sudden movements (tics) or vocalizations that occur repeatedly — after his parents noticed him sniffing and throat clearing over a period of time.
Loewen praised the school, including Evan’s teacher Allen Vilar and school principal Rick Haley, for increasing awareness and education about Tourette syndrome in the classroom and the school community, which has helped her son and his classmates understand his condition.
In a list too long to mention, the school’s activities have included Evan’s class reading the book I Can’t Stop: A Story about Tourette Syndrome by Holly L. Niner, which lead to the class making cards for Evan expressing how much they value him and accept him as a friend, and the viewing of a movie called I Have Tourette’s, but Tourette’s Doesn’t Have Me, which helped Evan educate his peers about bullying, Loewen said.
"I think the award is totally awesome," said Loewen, noting Evan’s tics have been increasing, notably in his jaw and neck, which the family has been expecting because of his age. "As a parent, it’s so reassuring that the school has gone above and beyond to help Evan. The kids have been awesome and very accepting of him because they understand what’s happening to him."
"And Mr. Vilar is the most humble person you could ever meet. He just connects with Evan, talks to him and understands him. He’s so focused on helping and making them feel special. He’s the coolest teacher ever. He’s so passionate about his work and it comes naturally to him. His mission is to make each individual kid passionate about who they are."
Vilar, who lives in Fort Rouge, said he draws on his some of childhood experiences to help him relate to his students.
"I’m from the Philippines and came to live in Manitoba at the age of eight. We lived in Lynn Lake in the north, so I know what it’s like to be perceived as different, because I had a different skin colour," Vilar said.
"Evan’s mom came to me, as she was concerned his tics were becoming more prevalent, so I told her I’d start the last school year off telling the kids my story and about my experiences being teased or picked on. It’s important that we realize we’re all the same inside, and in the classroom we’re one community and we need to help and support each other in any way we can. Evan’s a happy kid and the change I’ve seen in him is phenomenal. It’s really all about self-esteem."
Based on Evan’s appraisal of Vilar, the admiration is mutual: "He’s funny and really nice. He has magical powers, because he does tricks, he makes math really fun," Evan said.
To learn more, visit www.tourette.ca