When I was a youngster, I had a friend who had a brother none of us knew very well. He didn’t go to regular school classes and gradually just drifted away from view. Asking our parents about him brought one of two answers: “He’s slow,” or “he’s retarded.”
I don’t think he ever held a job or belonged to any organization or clubs. Thankfully, we’ve matured as a society and there are now efforts to include such individuals in the mainstream of daily life.
There are also groups that attempt to provide these individuals with skills and tools to become a part of regular society. Such groups also do their best to ensure that regular society and the individuals therein pledge to do their best to include them with a knowledge that they can contribute to the best of their ability.
Bulkley Valley Christian School (BVCS) has a designated program to help in that task. The Special Education program at BVCS is not just a band-aid solution that tries to deal with those one or two individuals who might pop up with such needs.
Helengrey Dobrenski is the director of Educational Support Services, the designated program which deals with those students. These individuals are a part of the student body to as great an extent as possible. They have specific programs designed to assist them in as helpful a way as possible.
Her previous experience in her home state of Texas was a bit different and she was interested to find that there is a strong effort to include such students in the regular program as much as possible.
Other students are taught how best to help them and include them in daily life, both at school and outside.
Development director Tom Grasmeyer feels that the approximately 20 special needs students have enriched the school. In addition, there are another 15-20 students who require some sort of learning assistance which the school does its best to provide.
“There are many ways we try to integrate these learners into the life and programs of the school. There are many instances in which full integration is neither practical nor desirable, and in these situations these students have their own spaces and programs,” he said.
Grasmeyer feels that as a Christian school in particular, BVCS’ worldview informs them of the value of each person regardless of size, ability, or need, and they hope that as they try to carry out their mission that they will in some small way reflect the God they worship.
“Our friends and students with special needs have enriched us as a community and as individuals. Smithers is blessed with the many schools, agencies and organizations who serve and are served by those with special needs,” he said.
Monique VanderWart, vice principal at BVCS feels that the individual needs of the students are very wide and the school tries its best to provide them with the skills and knowledge that will enable them for a greater inclusion in regular society.
“Our philosophy here is to have meaningful inclusion,” she said.
For some students that means that they are participating in most classes with the other students and maybe they will have an aide with them to help them, while for others it means they have a completely separate program and they will join in when they can,” she said.
As the students become closer to graduating, the goal is to have them integrated into the community so that it’s an easy transition.
“Some of our older students are going horse riding and bowling. They’re volunteering at the Salvation Army. It makes the transition after high school easier,” said Dobrenski.
She was pleased to point out that recently, BV Wholesale had taken on one of their students to get some work experience.
Grasmeyer said that there was quite a range in the needs and abilities of these students at the school. They come into the school at different ages and the staff makes every effort to provide each one with what they need most.
In order to integrate them into the general student body, the school uses a variety of methods including having high school age students interact with them on a regular basis.
“When high school students reflect on their time here, one of the things that they said had a big impact on them was the fact that they took time with the special needs students to make them feel included socially,” said VanderWart.
Feedback from parents is very important.
“The parents of the special needs kids are very thankful and appreciative. They are very happy for what they experience here at the school. Some of the parents of the kids who are not on individual education plans feel that it is a very important part of their children’s development and that humanity has a wide range and to appreciate all the differences that are there,” she said.
“We want these kids to be contributors to the community in the ways that they are able to and to encourage their growth and development in the areas they are skilled so that they can give back. We’ve found that’s very satisfying for them and fulfilling for them as it is for any of us. We want all of our students who graduate to be positive contributors to our community,” she said.
With such a positive attitude that seems to be gushing forth from the committed educators at Bulkley Valley Christian, there is little doubt that those who may have been forgotten in the past will now become much more than merely casual members of our community, and will give back to the whole in many different ways.