Providing Personalized Virtual Learning through a new Distance Learning Hub
For many of us with children, navigating the world of virtual schooling during the pandemic has been challenging, to put it mildly. But imagine trying to navigate virtual schooling when your child has special needs? How do you teach social skill development skills when your child cannot be with their peers or in a social setting? How do you help a child find their voice when they rely on a communication device that they are just learning? And how do you deliver speech therapy, occupational therapy, or cognitive behavioural therapy through a computer screen? These are all questions that they team at Calgary Quest School needed to answer when the pandemic hit.
Enter Allie Gauthier. Literally. Entering back to work from being on maternity leave and thankfully, full of energy and willing to meet the challenge head on, Allie was tasked with answering all these questions. Allie and her team found solutions by transitioning their At-Home Learning program from the individual classroom teachers to a dedicated team that focused exclusively on at-home learning through their newly created Calgary Quest School (CQS) Distance Learning Hub. The launch of this focussed program provided much more support to their at-home learning students. Delivery of this program was crucial for many students who had not attended the school since March 2020. And most of these students will continue their at-home learning journey in the 2021-2022 school year due to their complex health needs.
"Over the past year we certainly have learned how to pivot and above all be flexible," says Allie. CQS Distance Learning Hub Coordinator. "Because our students' needs are so specialized, we needed to take the time to personalize every learning plan to fit the style and needs of each student and their family."
Allie references the family because at Quest family involvement and collaboration is key to the success of each child. "Right from the start, there is a lot of communication and we develop specialized programming together with the family. For each program to be successful, the family needs to be onboard and very involved and we need to create a plan that is sustainable with goals that are attainable."
The Quest Online Hub Team consists of a teacher, educational assistant, and a team of therapists. They work together with the student and their family using various techniques to ensure students are meeting milestones and progressing according to plan. And the results have been outstanding. "What we have seen during the pandemic is that many students in traditional schooling have fallen through the cracks with virtual schooling," says Allie. "At Quest we are seeing the opposite. Students are reaching milestones sooner than expected and achieving more than expected."
Luminita Raden’s son, Nicky, has been in this program since 2020 because of COVID and has benefitted greatly. "Shannon had done a tremendous job at creating and tailoring this program to Nicky’s curriculum needs. The program both challenges him to constantly improve as well as, improves his confidence and participation," says Luminita. "It has been amazing to see his improvement in knowledge and confidence. The HUB program continues to improve and evolve into a true academic program designed specifically for kids with learning difficulties. HUB continues to prepare Nicky for the next level and for a time when it is safe for him to be back in a classroom setting."
There are many students who have experienced great success like Nicky. For example, students that could not produce vowel sounds exceeded their goals and are reading full stories today. "We've watched students who struggle with their communication devices, begin to work helping them find their voice and students who struggle with even talking about wellness have embraced guided mediation – all in a virtual setting."
In fact, the Online Learning Hub through Quest has been so successful that now the school, with support from organizations like UFA, is hoping to branch out with their service delivery to rural communities who struggle with access to supports in normal times, let alone during a pandemic. "We identified a real need in rural communities. Often families do not have access to resources and are not able to travel to centres to take advantage of this type of personalized programming. We have seen the benefit of our service and educational model and we believe that it’s time to share the love by expanding it to rural communities filling a gap," says Shaun Baid, Business Manager at Quest School.
The Quest Team plans to roll-out their programming this fall and are pleased to have UFA’s support. "It’s such a good fit," says Kimberly MacDonald, Manager of Community Investment, UFA. "We serve hundreds of rural communities across the province and our community investment program aims to Enrich, Educate and Engage with the communities we serve. The programming that is offered by Quest speaks to all three of these areas of focus and we know having access to the resources and education through Quest can make a real difference in the lives of rural students and their families."
Quest school has a long history of 40 years and the time is right to extend their services. Using several different delivery methods from interactive zoom classes to delivering art supplies and science experiments direct to the students, the programming spans from elementary to high school and now into adulthood with newly developed transition programming. The teachers have learned to become creative, keeping the education personalized at all grade levels. The goal is to help each child reach their potential and be as independent as possible. Allie adds that teachers at Quest can work with rural teachers helping to code students, to write IPPs (Individualized Learning Plans) for students, to develop blended learning models, to help navigate where to find resources and sometimes where to even start. "It’s all about collaboration," says Allie. "For many parents it’s overwhelming and finding resources can be very difficult, and for some not even knowing where to begin looking can be incredibly stressful. We can be there to help guide parents in their child’s special education journey."
For more information about Quest School and the Distance Learning HUB visit www.CalgaryQuestSchool.com.