Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Winnipeg division has model programs
Elsewhere, there's a patchwork -- or nothing
If you're a kid with FASD, you better hope you live in the Winnipeg School Division.
Its programs and classes are a model for teachers across the country, the province and the rest of the division.
It's the only school board in Manitoba that has special classrooms for kids diagnosed with FASD. The Right program at Shaughnessy Park School and the Bridges program at David Livingstone offer classes designed for kids with FASD who aren't able to learn in a traditional classroom.
"The ultimate goal is for kids to be integrated into regular classrooms," said David Livingstone principal Debbie Lenhardt Mair.
In the fall, the school division extended the Bridges program to junior high and Grade 9 students at R.B. Russell School.
It also created a new position for one of the program's pioneers to help all 77 schools come up with learning plans for students with FASD (Students don't need a formal FASD diagnosis.)
"It's getting busier and busier," said Deb Thordarson, who is still based at David Livingstone School. "The strategies we use are good for all kids."
Outside the Winnipeg School Division, there are many children with undiagnosed FASD who could benefit from the teaching tools and methods they've developed, she said.
"I'd like to see Bridges and the Right program in every school," Thordarson said.
But elsewhere in the province, services for kids with FASD are a patchwork.
None of the other 38 school districts in Manitoba has anything like a David Livingstone School. Several school divisions contacted by the Free Press didn't know how many kids in their regions were diagnosed with FASD or suspected to have it.
For overworked teachers, kids with FASD are seen as disruptive, willfully lazy and slow. Parents say it can be tricky convincing schools to make adaptations for kids with FASD. Adaptations, a catch-word in the FASD world, could mean anything from allowing a student to use a calculator to modifying assignments, to avoiding group work.
"The hardest time for our kids is middle school and high school," said Val Surbey, who has adopted and fostered several kids with FASD.
"Very few finish school, many drop out at the middle-school level or aren't able to progress beyond that level," she said. Her youngest in the Seven Oaks School Division ended up switching schools because his school wasn't willing or able to work with him, she said.
People in education are often uneducated on what fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is, Surbey said. "It's organic brain damage."
The dad of a teenaged son with FASD once brought in an FASD expert to speak to teachers in his son's school and the turnout was terrible.
And parents say getting funding for the most basic form of aid, a teaching assistant, can involve endless wrangling between the school division, education and child-welfare departments.
Steinbach mom Jennifer Friesen ruled out the public school system for her adopted daughter because she'd likely get lost in the shuffle in schools already bursting at the seams.
"It just seems to be really hard to crack into the education system," said Friesen.
"How do you revamp a whole system? If I think the school system needs to be way more FASD-focused, how do you make that happen when each individual kid is so different?"
Educators say they've made huge strides in dealing with all kinds of learning disabilities, including FASD.
"It doesn't matter to us what package the child arrives in," said Judy Dandridge, the student services co-ordinator at Fort La Bosse school division in Virden. "The label doesn't always define what we do."
There are resources that teachers and parents outside the Winnipeg School Division can access, said Thordarson in Winnipeg.
Helping students with FASD develop the tools they need to learn and cope is an investment that will benefit them for a lifetime. "This is a lifelong disability," said Thordarson. "They won't grow out of it. We've all got to be advocates for these kids."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2011 H3
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