ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Byrne Creek Is Paving A Way for Success

Post submitted by Laida Falsetto and Mirella Gargiulo

Byrne Creek Secondary School has been and continues to be creative and flexible in designing varying programs to meet the needs of our current population. Over 60 percent of our student population does not speak English as their first language. As a result, we have worked innovatively to develop programs and activities that pave a way for individual success and celebrate diversity. But what is success? What makes someone successful? How do you know if you or your students have achieved success? These questions help guide our program development and are the building blocks that we use to create our classroom community each year.

One unique program at Byrne Creek that demonstrates this is our English language learner work program Paving A Way for Success (PAWS). This program was designed and implemented to meet the needs of new immigrants, especially refugees, who arrive at our school between the ages of 16 and 19. These students have arrived in Canada in their later teen years, making it rather difficult to acquire enough language to graduate on-time with their peer group. Some of the goals of the PAWS program are to facilitate a smoother transition into Canadian culture, help them adapt to a new education system, and help them better prepare for work in Canada as adults.

The PAWS program focuses on the development of reading, writing, numeracy, and essential workplace skills. Students selected for this program go through a process to determine their career interests and goals. In the first part of the course, students concentrate on achieving their personal success by uncovering their strengths and personal skills, goal setting objectives, communication skills, and work skills through various activities. The students gain transferable essential skills that are the foundation and building blocks among work, life, and learning. The program focuses on developing these skills because they have been shown to be needed in almost every job. They are the skills that employers and employees have identified as the most important for personal success in the Canadian workforce.

Once students have acquired enough skills and are ready for work, they expand their learning through community work experience placements. The work placement provides students with an opportunity to practice English in a meaningful context, learn about Canadian culture, and acquire work skills while improving job-related English language. Students are also encouraged to participate in community activities to improve their language skills. The program uses targeted workplace learning opportunities and community connections to help students achieve success. Students are also assisted with transitioning into adult education programs to pursue their adult diploma.

In the PAWS program, we care for our students' needs from multiple perspectives and collaborate with many individuals to help better support them on their journey. PAWS students work with two classroom teachers daily in a small-group setting. Laida Falsetto brings forth her expertise in leadership and Mirella Gargiulo brings forth her English language development skill set and collaboratively they help this diverse group of students work toward success. The program also involves a youth and family worker, Ana Alarcon, whose role is to assist and support vulnerable immigrant youth to help them connect to community resources and work sites. She interacts with students, parents, staff, and community partners to facilitate sustainable solutions to the unique educational, social, and career development and needs of this vulnerable student group. In addition, our program works closely with a representative from MOSAIC, an organization that addresses issues that affect immigrants and refugees in the course of their settlement and integration into Canadian society. To help better support the whole child, settlement workers help us communicate with the families so they can be involved in understanding their child's progress. In addition, the students participate in the Becoming a Confident Worker: Understanding and Taming Worries that Are Obstacles to Success project that is conducted by a registered psychologist in close collaboration with the youth worker and classroom teachers. The psychologist helps students develop self-awareness of stressors and past trauma, identify and practice new coping strategies, and understand the interaction between the self and the world of work in Canada. All of these people work together to create a positive experience for our PAWS students.

This program has been in place at Byrne Creek since 2008. Its success is founded on understanding, acknowledging, and respecting the personal journeys of all our students. By recognizing that each student's definition of success is unique, our efforts are directed at assisting students in meeting their personal goals for life in Canada. We hope to continue to help them pursue their dreams in Canada and look forward to the journey continuing.

Laida Falsetto is one of the founding teachers of the PAWS program at Byrne Creek Secondary School. She recently completed her master's degree in education with a focus on the importance of positive self-esteem in adolescents. In her teaching practice, the PAWS program provides a sense of fulfillment and richness that is distinctive and unparalleled. Falsetto continues to be inspired by her students and enjoys learning about the unique experiences that shape their identity.

Mirella Gargiulo is an English language learner (ELL) teacher/coordinator at Byrne Creek Secondary School. She holds a bachelor's degree in education and is a certified early childhood educator who previously worked as a primary elementary school teacher. Since coming to Byrne in 2006, her focus has been to ensure that ELL students feel supported on their journey. She works with many ELL students in a variety of settings to help them achieve success. Gargiulo's passion is in implementing and supporting literacy interventions in her classroom and the school. Currently, she is working toward her master's degree in education.

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