Staff at special-needs school go above and beyond to help students thrive
The school offers breakfast, work placements, a thrift store and a team of dedicated teachers
It's hard to imagine a group of professionals working harder to support teenagers with special needs than the staff at John Grant High School in Côte Saint-Luc.
The school, which accepts students from all over Montreal, has been adapting in several ways to keep offering a multitude of services to its student population.
Most of the students are taking in-person classes, but some are stuck at home due to health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus.
Far from falling through the cracks, these students are the subject of significant efforts to make them feel included.
"For Remembrance Day, our principal mailed home poppies to all the students. For Orange Shirt Day [which honours Indigenous children sent to residential schools], she mailed home buttons. Everything that we do, the online students are included in it," said teacher Catherine Rendell-Green.
"If the kids need a device, we will drive it to their house. Whatever anyone needs, we will find a way to make sure that they get it."
Rendell-Green told CBC that the school has programs to meet a variety of needs, beyond just the academic.
John Grant has a free breakfast program, a lunch program, a free thrift shop, a work placement program where they can develop job skills and it hosts an annual holiday meal for 250 community members.
This year, the holiday meal had to be downsized, but meals were still offered within classroom bubbles.
Rendell-Green said when students returned in September, staff members were nervous about how they would handle all the changes brought on by the pandemic.
"They ended up totally surprising us. They are so resilient, they are so patient," she said. "I think they were so happy to be back that they were willing to put up with anything we told them."
She said the students have adapted to wearing masks, washing their hands frequently and staying within their classroom bubbles.
Some of the students were missing friends in other classes and those learning remotely, so the school launched a pen pal program.
Rendell-Green said despite all the challenges these students face, "they've actually just been thriving."
"These guys are actually like super troopers. They've overcome all kinds of obstacles."