For the majority of people educated in Canada, our only experience with teachers is the one we have in a classroom. So, it may come as a surprise for some to hear that the district also employs a number of specialty staff and teachers, referred to in the education world as *‘non-enrolling’ staff. Allison de Boer, currently in her 5th year with the district at Bowen Island Community School (BICS), is one of these specialist teachers, whose work supports students and classroom teachers, both inside and outside the classroom.
Allison is a learning support teacher for students who have learning disabilities as well as students who do not have learning disabilities, but require extra support with reading, writing, math, etc. She also provides English Language Learner (ELL) services for BICS, and her caseload varies from year to year. This is probably the busiest time of the year for her and her learning support teaching partner, Matt Pugliese, since they spend a fair bit of their time connecting with others to develop Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for students in their care and working with education assistants. She is currently providing 4 days per week in her learning support role, and 1 day support in the ELL role.
“There is a lot of crossover between the roles, through reading groups, creating adaptive materials for classroom teachers – knowing what I know in one role helps with the other, particularly with regards to support for the teacher,” says Allison, adding that she adds more games for students who depend on her for ELL services.
Allison earned her first degree in Human Kinetics at UBC-Okanagan, followed by a Bachelor of Education. She took a diploma program in Special Education concurrently, gaining experience at the ELL summer camp offered through the university.
“I knew after finishing that I wanted to be somewhere in the Lower Mainland area, and when I was doing my Bachelor of Education, I heard good things about West Vancouver Schools – that they were a smaller district that offered good opportunities for collaboration,” says Allison.
That collaboration happens on both an informal and planned basis. Allison’s day usually starts on the ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay to Bowen, as teachers often carpool together on the 7 am ferry. During their commute, and for the hour before the bell goes at 8:40 am, Allison uses the time to connect with staff. Allison says it’s very valuable time, as some of the situations that crop up during the day can be dealt with before students arrive.
“Education Assistants (EAs) provide a vital support in the classroom, so if one is sick, that has a domino effect on the day – we may have to cover until a replacement EA comes on the ferry,” says Allison. “After we ensure we have EA coverage, Matt and I then spend a large portion of our days in September and October conducting reading screeners, which we do one to one for students in Grade 1 and 2, and as a group in Grades 3-7. We follow up 1:1 with any students who require additional support, then make recommendations as to whether to provide that support in class or by pulling out groups of students 30-50 minutes at a time, according to identified needs.” The reading support groups typically are up and running mid to late October.
Allison gets a lot of satisfaction from seeing the students she helps progress year over year, though it is difficult at times to balance increased and diverse needs with limited resources.
Classroom teachers have diverse needs for the support provided by learning assistance teams.
“We do our best to support them so that they can do their best job,” says Allison. “But when you’ve worked with a student for a couple of years on reading and you see them progress from simple words to more complex text , then you go to a classroom and see them fully engaged in a social studies lesson – you see that they understand that although some things may be hard, they can improve and become more resilient and confident – that’s why you do it.”
Work has a light side for Allison from time to time, with some of the levity provided by the students themselves. Parents may be able to identify with some of these moments when they read to their young children.
“When kids are learning to read, they read things that aren’t on the page, and some of what they say is pretty funny – it can be hard to keep a straight face sometimes,” says Allison.
Like many staff throughout the district, Allison has high praise for her colleagues at the school.
“The important thing about this district is the people – the staff at BICS is absolutely outstanding – they really care and they know their stuff, and that makes it an awesome work environment.”
Allison, who is a voracious reader and loves to kayak, camp and cycle, lives with her partner, Brock, in Mount Pleasant. The pair visits the seawall, loves the selection of local restaurants and has recently adopted a new puppy.
All the best to you, Allison, as you use your considerable skills to support students at West Vancouver Schools!