REACHing More Students Than Ever
by Dan Mullins
This September, the REACH program opened the doors of its new campus, located at Terry Fox Elementary School, for the first time. The REACH program, in existence since 2007, has had a long waiting list, which this expansion will help to address.
REACH works with 5–8-year-old students who have social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties which make it difficult for them to learn in a mainstream class. Students can find the aid and guidance they need within the safe, warm, caring and highly structured environment of a REACH classroom. Typically, students attend for one year, after which they are re-integrated into their home schools with a new set of tools to help them thrive. The program has deep empirical and philosophical roots and is very much in demand. It has been a success, as have the Nurture Group classrooms in the United Kingdom which provided the inspiration for REACH.
Previously, there were two REACH campuses. LaSalle Junior Elementary hosted one of them, which served the Lester B. Pearson School Board’s eastern territory, from Dorval to Verdun. The other campus, at Christmas Park Elementary in Beaconsfield, served the rest of the board’s population. Due to the program’s success, the huge catchment areas, the small classroom size, and the considerable number of suitable candidate students, waiting lists were long and growing.
Recognizing that need, and knowing the expertise was available, “senior administrators agreed to open another campus,” said REACH Coordinator and Psychologist Elizabeth Roberts, PhD, with audible gratitude.
Dr. Roberts had praise for many other contributors to the successful launch of the new location, as well. “We’re lucky to have found staff that are really skilled and wanted to work within this framework,” she said. “They left jobs that they appreciated and took a risk to come join our team because the program aligned with their goals and values.” This classroom team will become the secure attachment figures who can help incoming students learn skills which will benefit them throughout their schooling and lives.
Doug Stewart, the principal of Terry Fox, was also instrumental in the successful launch, welcoming REACH with his usual smile and with open arms. He was “gracious” in offering the use of a “beautiful classroom,” as Dr. Roberts said, along with another adjacent room. A door directly connecting the rooms was added with help from Region 2’s Carla Sfairy, who also oversaw the addition of a “calm corner,” the renovation of the kitchen and a fresh coat of paint. The kitchen is used to provide students in the program with a family style eating experience (breakfast and lunch). This helps them to begin the day in a grounding way and provides students with time to express themselves and interact so they’re ready to engage with the day’s work.
When certain items couldn’t be provided due to budget constraints, members of the Student Services Department stepped up, providing donations such as needed school supplies, furniture, stuffed animals, fidgets, and other essentials items – along with a treasure trove of boardgames!
Psychologist Joseph D’Intino and Family Outreach Worker Janna Gillis regularly attend to each of the campuses, and Sandra Luther, Assistant Director of the Student Services Department, oversees referrals to the program from their home schools. Horizon High School administrators Ben Matlin and Brian Swirsky oversee the administrative aspects of the program.
The new Terry Fox campus currently has four students, with a capacity of eight. As the year progresses, the classroom will gradually fill. The program uses staggered entry and re-integration to provide a smooth experience for the students and allow for staff to participate and build capacity when students return to their home schools.
The story of the opening of the new campus is a wonderful example of many members of the school board community coming together to provide opportunities to students in need. We congratulate all involved and wish the absolute best for staff and students.
For more information about the REACH program, please visit their website here.