REGINA — Jean Vanier School’s external appearance is little different than most schools of the Regina Catholic School Division, but it’s what’s inside that makes a big difference for the children of this school and their families. There are only 28 in the current student body and, according to Principal Rolande Burant-Maher, “there are only three that we can consider verbal.”
The children have varying degrees of challenges but staff members see them first as children, children who can in some ways learn. It’s a difficult challenge but the staff wouldn’t be anywhere else.
“It’s a very humbling place to work. It puts life into perspective. If I look at the challenges that our students face and how they face them with joy and with courage. They don’t get down by what life has thrown them. They’re a happy, joyful bunch and so when I go home at the end of the day I can say ‘wow I was a part of that,’ ” said Burant-Maher. She was a teacher in the division and over the course of her vocation became special education consultant where she probably could have stayed until retirement, but she requested a move to Jean Vanier’s administrative position when it became vacant. She’s not alone to make that choice.
Michelle Jones has been at the school for 17 years. She began as a part-time teacher and requested to stay when it became full time. “It’s very rewarding. I see them as children first,” said Jones. She told the story of one little girl frustrated and vocal because she couldn’t communicate. She and Tammy Rose, the RN who works as a medical assistant, taught her to use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and now she can communicate with staff.
“That’s very rewarding, letting someone communicate with you.” It’s two-fold rewarding, said Jones. “Working with the kids but also working with the staff. It feels like this is home away from home.”
Rose’s association with the school dates back to her high school when she came as a volunteer and worked in the school’s swimming program. She returned as a medical assistant as soon as she became a registered nurse.
“I support the medical needs of the student so that they have the opportunity to learn.” She quoted the school’s mission statement that speaks to providing a Catholic education wherein the whole child is nurtured and individual growth is encouraged in a caring and supportive environment. “And that is absolutely true. That’s what we do every day and we feel so passionate about this place,” at which point she, Jones and Burant-Maher all teared up.
“We can hardly put into words how fulfilling this work is,” said Rose. “There have been many highlights,” and she told the story of one child who after months of hard work, encouragement and praise, finally took a few steps on her own. And she giggled. “Our eyes filled with tears of pride and joy and they still do thinking back on that moment.”
All have varying amounts of special education training.
Does it take a special type of person to work with such severely challenged children? No, they all replied emphatically. “We are not special people,” said Burant-Maher, “we become special because we work here,” reversing the usual meaning of the phrase.