Saskatoon's Lester B. Pearson School makes students feel like family

For a little boy in Saskatoon, speaking out loud causes a lot of anxiety; but a school which feels like a family is making all of the difference.

Carla Janson says teachers, students make her son feel at home even when he can’t speak

(Left to right) Resource room teacher Jeremy Ramsden, Grade 8 student Kyle Janson, Carla Janson, educational assistant Courtney Sjodin, Grade 2 teacher Diana Munkholm, and Principal Janet Simpson. (Kelly Malone/CBC)

For a little boy in Saskatoon, speaking out loud causes a lot of anxiety; but a school which makes students and teachers feel like a family is making all of the difference.

At Lester B. Pearson School, Grade 2 student Ryan Janson is starting to say "hello" to some of his classmates. His mother, Carla, said that's a very large change for her son, who suffers from an anxiety disorder.

"Right from day one, I always felt bad for the teachers because how do you deal with a child that isn't talking to you and stuff?" Carla said. "[But] just the way that everybody in the school made him feel welcome, just made a point of saying 'hi' to him on purpose, he's opened up so much in the last two years."  

The close-knit school in the Pacific Heights neighbourhood has been a second family to all three of Carla's sons. For 14-year-old Kyle, the school helped him build his dreams of one day becoming a photographer.

"A couple of years ago I was depressed and sad and stuff, and the support from all the teachers and stuff was really great and they were really supportive," Kyle said.

"It feels like it's a good place and I belong here and stuff and I feel safe."

That support is an essential part of the school, resource room teacher Jeremy Ramsden said.

"When we find out we have a new student coming in and we find out they need some support we are pretty good at making sure we have those conversations right away with the family, to get their point of view, their history, things that worked in their other school and things that didn't," Ramsden said.

"We really come together as a team."

They also prioritize making the kids comfortable. Ramsden said the classrooms 'look more like home" with dimmed lights, comfortable chairs, and often a classroom pet.

The philosophy brings in unique programs for the diverse student population, but it also is reflected in how students and teachers interact.

"With me, working with Ryan, I think it was great that we had quite a conversation with his mom to understand that there was a lot of anxiety happening here," Ryan's teacher Diana Munkholm explained.

"So my job was to figure out ways to release, remove that anxiety and help him to find ways and things that he could do."

Along with educational assistant Courtney Sjodin, Munkholm worked daily with Ryan to find out ways to get him to feel comfortable but also to treat him like any other student.

"I remember the day he started talking, I was on cloud nine. We were able to help him to do that and that was an awesome feeling," she said.

A sign at the front entrance of the school says 'welcome' in different languages reflecting the diverse student population. (Kelly Malone/CBC)

The investment in the students and the community is clear, many of the teacher's actually studied in the same rooms when they were young. In the Janson family, the connection is multi-generational as well with multiple family members walking through the hallways over the years. That's why Carla said, while her sons are studying, they will be doing it at Lester B. Pearson School

"We moved in April to a different community but I drive my kids back and forth to school here every day, I don't want to switch them to another school," she said.

Carla said as more new Canadians call the neighbourhood home, the school's important role will continue.

Lester B. Pearson School was one of the nominees for CBC's Saskatoon Morning Nominate Your School contest. Over the next few weeks, there will be profiles of some of the great things happening in schools throughout the city.

The winner of the contest was Nutana Collegiate, and Saskatoon Morning will be broadcasting from the school March 22 from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m CST.  Everyone is invited to come to the school, have some coffee, take in the show and meet the Saskatoon Morning team.


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