Special Report: Education

Westdale a Welcoming School for Special Needs Students

We considered many possibilities, from a special needs school in the west end to private school. We always concluded that Westdale was best.

By Debra Hughes
Published October 12, 2016

Last fall, my husband and I won a major battle about our special needs daughter's future. We got her into Westdale Secondary School.

I went to Westdale in the 1980s. We were in the catchment area when we moved here in 1983. I went there from grade 11 to 13, with two graduations because grade 13 was being phased out, and finished it off during a work-to-rule campaign. It was an interesting time.

Now, some 30 years later, our daughter, Katie, is following in my footsteps. Breaking the path was quite the challenge.

We were told that there was some uncertainty about the school Katie would attend. The message we got was that she would go where there was an opening. It seemed like quite the crapshoot where her future was concerned, even though she would have door-to-door bus service wherever she ended up.

The special needs team at Ryerson Middle School went above and beyond the call of duty for Katie. Crystal, who got an award for her efforts as an EA, recommended that Katie go to Westdale. We really appreciated that. Some of the other members knew Katie as well, through her years at Earl Kitchener and Ryerson.

Crystal worked with Katie for three years, pushing her when she could, backing off when necessary, and built a rapport with Katie that we will always remember.

She was instrumental in getting Katie an iPad for school, which Katie took to Westdale and will continue to use throughout her school years.

Mrs. Pollock and Mrs. Warriner had many good things to say about Katie's development in Ryerson, and Mr. Galassi arranged for Katie to receive a special award when she graduated grade 8. There were so many positive memories associated with her experience at Ryerson.

We did our part, as parents, keeping our kids in the same neighbourhood, around familiar peers, somewhat protected from bullies. We knew that an unfamiliar school would be a prime opportunity for bullies for either of our daughters.

Most of Katie's classmates would attend Westdale, and most of them have amazed me with their efforts to be nice to Katie. She is familiar and accepted in our neighbourhood. I have no doubt at all that they would come to Katie's aid in a bullying situation.

Our younger daughter has supported her special needs friends on various occasions from bullies, and has made us proud with her courage to speak to us and school staff when she found herself in a bullying situation.

Choosing Westdale was a no-brainer for us, but we had to reinforce all the reasons for our decision over and over to instill into the other staff that Westdale was where Katie belonged.

We talked about her being around her peers, their familiar, accepting presence, their support, the absence of bullies in Katie's life and the reputation Westdale has for being a supportive environment for special needs students.

We focused on pushing the idea that it was that Katie attend Westdale only that would make us happy. We considered many possibilities, from a special needs school in the west end to private school. We always concluded that Westdale was best.

I'm not sure what the Ryerson staff did, but I am absolutely certain a lot went on behind the scenes to make our wishes happen. Once they understood our reasons, it was no holds barred.

Katie started grade 9 in September. We recently had our first meeting to discuss transition planning and community supports. Mr. Kinsie is the teacher for the senior class of special needs students, and he has a reputation for paving the way for a smooth transition for special needs students to go out into the community after they finish high school.

He takes his students out on regular trips into the community to do volunteer work, and has many resources at his disposal to help special needs students be accepted into the community.

I am so happy that Katie is at Westdale.

Debra Hughes is a special needs stay-at-home mom with a home-based business called Little Treasures by Debbie for knit and crochet items. She enjoys writing editorials on occasion.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 12, 2016 at 14:11:22

Thank you so much for sharing your views and your experiences! I have a son in Grade 8 who has autism. We are all looking together at options for Grade 9, and Westdale is one; your positive experience will be added to the consideration.

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