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Text Transcript: Transitions in Rural Communities

- I have been doing this for six years.

When I first came on, the coordinator of student services in my board, Chrissy Lynch said to me here's the transition guide for Nova Scotia.

Here's the life skills document.

Make a plan.

Come back and see me when you got it together.

That was where I started six years ago and we haven't looked back.

I'm gonna show you a little bit of a map.

The red area is where I do… Where I travel between 21 buildings trying to support students in their transition to a community and that's what I'm going to talk to you a little bit about this afternoon.

As you can tell we're very rural.

The two large towns that I have are Antigonish and Port Hawkesbury.

Anybody wanna have a laugh about that?

Pretty small, not considered large towns at all.

Lots of little villages and very tiny tightly knit communities.

This is the piece that I've really tried to play into is these tightly knit communities because I have to get in there and work with those families and try to find something for students.

So that's been my goal.

I have transitioned students.

They're pretty much from the Halifax border.

I had a student who lived very close to Ecum Secum who I found meaningful employment for and I was the first person with special needs that I was actually successful for.

There were no adult service centers for him and I was really proud of that.

So I built on him.

He was my very first 21 year old that I found meaningful employment.

And there is no community.

There's no name there.

It was just a nursing home actually in Sherbrooke but it was somewhere that I was… He didn't live in Sherbrooke.

I found transportation.

So I was able to kind of off things along.

As you can tell it's kind of a diverse geography there that I'm dealing with.

So where it started.

I need us to know who I was dealing with.

My first year in this job was on the road meeting people trying to get a sense of what was out there, who are the people I needed to meet, who was going to be able to help me the most but what could I do for them?

Because it had to be a reciprocal relationship.

And how was I going to get students to be out in the community and not home on the couch?

And I don't know about all of you but all of our students are not leaving school and being successful.

We've done a great job.

We get them to 21 and then where can we send them?

There's such a gap sometimes.

Obviously I thought of the adult service centers.

I went onto the last sites.

I've met all the people I needed to in community services in all the areas.

I've met the people I needed in adult protection.

I met everybody.

Then I decided, now you know me and now I know you.

What are we going to do next?

So I figured out try to make connections with all of these people and what did they need from me?

And what could I provide?

It was very much a slow process.

We didn't move in any quick fashion but we knew it was gonna take some time So I needed to do something right away at the adult service centers because what was happening at the school level was that we weren't doing exactly what they needed.

So I needed to find out, what skills do our students need to be successful in all of these adults service centers.

So I went in to each of them and I did a whole list of all of the different jobs and I did a little discreet trial piece of every bit.

So if you're gonna wash windows what does that look like?

If you're gonna sweep the floor, if you're gonna fill salt and pepper shakers.

So I delineated each and every task and guess what?

The adult service centers really liked that 'cause they didn't have that step by step process done so they were pleased.

I gave them a document but better than that I gave them one of my school's documents and so all of my high school kids now had some things that they could be working on.

I talked about all of the co-op opportunities So all of those students now in 10, 11, and 12 co-op is a big deal.

But how could our special needs students do co-ops?

That wasn't typical.

'Cause there was all those things that they have to.

Wellness and workplace safety.

How was I gonna get around that?

So the co-op opportunities I designed were done with a teacher assistant.

In the teacher assistant guidelines in Nova Scotia there's a section on transition.

So that was my key.

They had to be able to transport students and they had to be able to do that as part of their role.

So that was my first start.

So I was able to then start my students leaving the school in grade 10 to help in co-op opportunities at the adult service centers that they potentially could go to after 21.

All of a sudden I was getting much more popular with my adult service centers because I brought a student but I also brought an adult.

I was making more reciprocal relationships.

I didn't just bring somebody I brought more hands.

So as my student was becoming more independent in the service center my teacher assistant was supporting some other person in that setting or she was doing something to be supportive.

So that was a nice little piece there.

So this relationship building was what I was finding then I was getting calls.

Do you think they could come twice a week?

What about if we moved that up more time?

Could they come four hours a day?

We really need somebody for bread making do you think they could come?

This started to build.

I started getting calls from people and they were my students in their sites which was atypical on my board.

We did not have these students leaving to go to these co-op opportunities so I was really pleased about that.

As this was going along, moved all of these along.

the sites were organized.

I was feeling really good about this.

So I thought I'd go back to Chrissy and I'd say things are going really well I've got this all done.

Okay now we'll go onto the next piece.

That was the regional occupational center.

This particular center is the largest I guess in the four counties because we had two sites and we were not having great success with this particular center because there was a disconnect between what they needed and what we were providing.

So it's taken me a long time but I'm feeling really good about this one now.

Some relationships as Sherry was mentioning take a little bit of extra tea and time.

So I used to come with tea and biscuits all the time.

And if you know me know that I love to bake and so that was my little entrance into the door.

So I'd be bringing treats and tea.

You're at home so let's have a little chat.

I was gonna show you that.

I don't know if it's gonna be a live link or not.

I wanted to show you that.

So this is just the breakdown of all the routines that I put through.

This then went into their documents.

So for this we're now great buddies.

They used all my documents to put in their own… to make their IEP those are individual program plans for their students.

So all based on these sorts of things.

It's just a long way.

This should be on your memories stick.

So what did they want from me?

After I was bringing them students and bringing them people to help the students everybody asked me for training.

So I started to invite them to all my professional development sessions that I was holding on autism and student services and anything around behavior or anything that I did.

Isabel Honu was here and we had Liz Logersin.

I invited all the adult service centers in the four counties to come.

So then they were getting some nice free PD and they were feeling really good about that.

That was nice.

But then they said they needed something specific.

This is a big one in our area.

They brought a lot of trainers for nonviolent crisis intervention which is mandatory for all of our adults service centers.

So what Chrissy did, she created an organization within the Strait Regional School board called NENCY and this is called the North Eastern Network for Child and Youth and it's an organization that meets every two months.

And all of the outside agencies that I work with, all of the adult service we've launched Mindy Services, Parenting Journey, Early Intervention, the list goes on and on.

They all come and meet and discuss ways to collaborate and break down the barriers of communication.

So within this NENCY program I was then able to train everybody.

So I'm now able to train adult service centers.

I trained within of course our board but it's this planning that I provide that then gives me an open door to everywhere I need to get to with my students.

So that's been a big piece of it because I wasn't able to really support them.

I needed to give them what they need at the most and that was this training and they don't have the money for it.

We're all in money crunch so this was a big solution to a big problem but it also means that I just have to pick up phones and people help me.

So that's awesome.

And help our students which is what my goal is.

That was our big success points when we started doing that.

Next program that I work with is the Strait to Work program which was started in 2007 as a pilot project.

It was meant to support students with disabilities to receive training to strengthen employment opportunities and it is really a huge passion of mine.

It's also funded by the Strait Regional School board but with also NSCC and Community Services and the Department of Education.

So it's a collaboration.

So this was a big part of my job.

That was the second thing I had to figure out was how are we going to get people from Ecum Secum and Pleasant Bay and Tinsel and the end of the earth in Areshat and all of those points that are so far away from this college to the Straight to Work program.

We don't have transportation, we've no busing, we have no tabs.

How am I gonna get them there?

Chrissy and I looked at all of this and I started working again to try to figure that.

Housing was a big one.

Transportation, I had no way.

There was nothing that I could do.

Since I started we now have one transportation system.

Antigonish is starting a smaller one.

So I started looking at the housing option.

I couldn't do anything about transportation.

People don't have cars.

People don't have money to pay for gas so I was at a loss.

So I went to the housing piece and I developed a boarding list.

So I found all of the people in Port Hawkesbury area close to the college.

Remember these are special needs students.

I can't have them crossing Reeve Street.

That's a four lane highway when they're coming from somewhere that didn't have stoplights.

So I needed to have homes that were close to the college that children could walk.

So that was beautiful.

I found… I think I have 35 homes that are there for my students.

I usually only get about 20 students, 15 to 20 in the program.

One year I had 27 but I do have enough homes and of course that list is used by the college for lots of other things.

I'm accessing transportation, I'm working with community services, I'm working with family services, I'm working with home and community living, I'm working with a lot of people to access that so it's improving from six years ago.

So I figured out how to get them there.

But then my problem was parents didn't really wanna come to port Hawkesbury especially when you're living two or three hours away from it.

So it was really tough.

They were scared.

It was a town compared to a little village where they knew everybody.

So first of all I decided I'm gonna just take the parents to the site and we'd sit and have tea and we'd have a little visit, we'd have a little cry and then we'd move on and we'd take the student the next time and we might do that a number of times.

I had one little girl who came on the mainland.

She came two hours.

The first time that she came to the college she drove the two hours.

She drove around then she waved at me and she drove away.

That was her visit.

The security guard says, you failed.

I did not fail.

I got her out of her home, I got her to drive her and she waved at me I did really well.

37 visits she made to the college.

37 visits.

She was a high functioning student with autism.

She had never left her rural community.

She had never crossed the crossway.

She just had no concept of what it was like.

Her learning center teacher said to me, Anna Marie she's such a fit for Strait to Work.

You have to get her to Strait to Work and I said okay so let's meet with her mom and dad.

I never met dad but mom was very good.

Mom found people.

We figured out a way to get them there for these 'cause they didn't drive.

And what not but we got her there.

She was this part of the class, she was the top student the year that she went.

She's now finishing her library science degree at Dalhousie University.

Isn't that awesome?

They told me when I started, the security guard at the community said I'd failed.

I did not fail.

We just had to take it very slow.

So that was in grade 10 that I started her having her visits.

So you can see it's a great program.

It's really working well.

We've had lots of students who have found meaningful employment.

So that was all great.

I had everything working with the adult services centers.

I had Strait to Work going but really it wasn't enough.

I still had these people who were home on the couch and it was distressing.

I just didn't know where I was going to go with them, I didn't know how I was gonna help them.

I thought I know so much why can't I solve these problems.

I started trying to come up with things.

So I used to go to the school and I'd say who's gonna round the longer.

So I'd be talking to people, I'd be sitting in the staff room with these buildings and saying… I needed to find people who were from the community.

So that was my go to.

I started with people within the school who had been there.

A lot of my rural rural schools do not have many people who have stayed.

We have a lot of people that travel in and travel out.

I don't know if you have that in your rural communities as well.

So we don't have a lot of people that maintain the history of the town or the families and I needed those people.

So that was my first target.

So I started meeting with the parents and that one person who I knew they would trust just 'cause they were a member of the community.

I didn't work with anybody else I had found.

So that was what my own personal experience told me.

So I discussed all of their connections.

The first one that I had was a little boy I told you about, the young man, and I asked them tell me what you do.

They were fishermen.

They fished lobster and they fished crabs.

They went skoodling and four wheeling and they liked to hunt and once a year they went to Vegas.

What am I gonna do with that?

I said is there anything?

He can't fish, can't drive a machine.

Maybe he can go to Vegas but that's to really a lifelong.

So I said there's gotta be something.

One day we were meeting just trying to figure out what are we going to do.

And I said, so what did you do on the weekend.

We were visiting uncle John at the nursing home.

I said, do you go to visit uncle John often?

Every Sunday.

And I said, how's your son like that?

He's the star of the show I should tell you about that.

That afternoon I was at the nursing home.

Tell me what does he do at the nursing home.

So I came to find out he was pretty much a non verbal student but he would find a non verbal, people who were very quiet, all of the residents that were bed ridden, not able to get up and he would just go in very gently and he would hold their hand.

He would put their hand on his, he would play music he had an iPhone.

He would bring in his music, he would put nice music on for them.

And so he would do that.

He would rome around the nursing home and do that.

So I thought, okay, this is good.

I said, tell me what else you need.

They needed somebody to help with bowling and they needed somebody to help with folding towels and they needed somebody to help clean the tables and chairs after lunch and they needed and they needed and they needed.

And I said okay here we go so we delineated the routine I got everything all set up.

He started on Monday.

He's been there ever since.

They love him so much.

They now pay him.

there was nowhere for this young man to go.

Mom and dad couldn't take him on a fishing boat and he's now very happy.

I'm really pleased about that.

But that was the first step and that was how I learnt you have to keep digging.

But that was after three years of digging.

I'm thinking what could he do, what could he do?

Something I've learnt with the fishing boats.

I did everything.

He was quite delighted and his fine motor skills were poor, he was non verbal, there just wasn't a lot of options.

So this is kind of how I got ahead of myself.

So then I went back.

How I'm I going to get everybody else on board with my plan?

So I took everything I knew about the house keepers of the schools that had this information and I wanted to build capacity within each building 'cause I want people to help me.

So now I want people to know what it is I'm working for on these buildings so they can say, Anna Marie you need to talk to so-and-so.

And so that's how I've kind of managed my connections.

Our board is really big on building capacity.

So Chrissy said you have to teach everybody.

So I teach the special educators, I teach the guidance counselors, the vice principals and we had to determine that for cases.

So now what we're trying to do is start so early that I have time to get through.

So that young man I was probably later than I should have been but we got him out obviously and successful but I try to start much earlier now than I did when I first started because it takes a lot of time I found.

So what I'm doing is starting in grade seven.

I'm hopeful that life skills document is gonna come.

It was the second thing that Chrissy asked me to use.

So I'm finding that parents have a really hard time talking about transition.

That was mentioned earlier.

They're scared to death.

So if they're scared to death doing school to school you can imagine about their thoughts of going out to community because they just want them to stay in school.

And I always say to them you're here till you're 21 if that's what you need but my goal is to get them out successful before that if possible.

I think it was Sherry who mentioned the individualized meetings.

So most times we have program planning team meetings.

We meet as a team and it's really important not to have a large group there.

I try to meet individually with my parents when I present that life skills checklist.

And I'll tell you why.

I want them to not be scared of it but I want them to have a little cry and I want them to have time to do that.

It's only a quick meeting.

It's 30 minutes.

I present the little document.

I show them.

I said, we don't have to do this now.

We're gonna do some in grade seven, some in grade eight, some in grade nine and we'll get it all looked over time.

But I find the minute I bring up those topics it's really tough for people to talk about it.

They're scared and they wanna protect their child and we want to protect them as well.

They have to build that trusting relationship.

So that's been really helpful.

The hard conversations.

Not so much about transportation and that sort of thing.

I get to that but the hard conversations I find come around they might wanna live on their own someday.

Hard conversations around hygiene or particular habits.

My young man who went to the nursing home sucked his thumb when I came into the picture.

He doesn't suck his thumb anymore.

I also wasn't putting up with that and I said that's not acceptable.

I left up high expectations.

There's no 21 year old men who work at the nursing home that suck their thumb.

The staff just let it go because he was the only special needs student they had in their building.

You know how it all goes.

We have to have those hard conversations around all kinds of things.

And it's really hard for parents to talk about that.

We have some students around hygiene.

We have some students around sexual behavior.

There's all kinds of hard things that I'm sure you've all had to talk about but it's just as well to get an initial plan.

If we can start getting them to admit that it's a problem then we can move forward.

So the latest case I'm working on is a young lady who's going to Strait to Work.

And I know she'll never get a job because of her oral hygiene.

It has been so awful her whole life because they're impoverished and not had the money.

So I just got an email at lunch from one of my guidance counselors who told me that they have now on orthodontist who's gonna take her on and give it for free.

That's been three years.