Adam Robertson Elementary School Grade 2/3 students and Cresteramics members dance to Dynamite at a recent Focus on Youth  performance.

Adam Robertson Elementary School Grade 2/3 students and Cresteramics members dance to Dynamite at a recent Focus on Youth performance.

Creston’s Adam Robertson elementary earns provincial award for work with developmentally disabled adults

Web Lead

  • May. 14, 2013 7:00 p.m.

A unique community partnership has earned an award for the way it develops relationships and understanding between elementary school students and adults with developmental disabilities.

Cresteramics, which provides day programs for the latter, and Adam Robertson Elementary School have a partnership that goes back nearly a decade, Grade 2/3 teacher Maria McLean said last week.

“The program with ARES has been a wonderful part of Cresteramics community inclusion program for the last several years,” according to Donna McCready, who directs Cresteramics. “Three developmentally delayed adults have been attending classes with grade 2 and 3 students. While at first there was some hesitancy from both the students and visiting adults, this was quickly overcome. The clients from Cresteramics now await their visits to ARES eagerly each week.”

McCready was in Vancouver last week to accept an award from the BC Principals’ and Vice Principals’ Association, a recognition that the adult-student relationships have provided clear benefits for all involved.

Two weeks ago, during Focus on Youth, the adults and children performed a flash mob musical number. McLean took the opportunity to ask her students why they were doing our Focus on Youth with them. Among the responses were:

“It shows we can have a loving heart for anyone.”

“It’s like in Horton Hears a Who. A person’s a person no matter how small.”

“Everyone can do things together.”

“We can get along with everyone.”

Over the last few years, Cresteramics has been increasing its community involvement in many areas, McCready said. Clients attend a seniors program one morning a week to assist with cooking and baking. There is also a successful youth transitioning program, beginning integration at the Grade 6 level.

The approach at Cresteramics has changed dramatically in the last 15 years, she said, as it has moved from offering traditional day services to a community inclusion model. Cresteramics has 28 programs, including employment, volunteerism, health and safety, lifelong learning and recreation. The store on Canyon Street is full of partnerships, too — more than 25 local artisans display and sell their products in the retail space.

“A typical visit from clients Ernie, Janice and Pat starts with them entering our classroom,” McLean said. “Students greet them enthusiastically and offer to accompany them to our library or music class. The clients are truly cared for by the children, with children taking their hands to walk with them through the hall. As the students comfort with the clients increase, communication and conversations begin.

“The students and clients attend library and music classes together. This experience allows the children to see that despite the differences, they have many commonalities with the Cresteramics clients. For instance, a few years ago, several of my students discovered that they rode the same horse as Janice at the Therapeutic Riding School. The boys quickly learned about Ernie’s love of hockey.

“In music class, the students and clients learn songs together, work on recorder and ukulele, and sing. Students work on developing musical skills together with Ernie, Janice and Pat.

“This partnership has also involved in past years the clients of Cresteramics making wooden birdhouses, and other decorative items for the students to paint and give as Christmas and mother’s and father’s day gifts.”

In their submission to the BCPVPA, McCready and McLean summarized the program’s benefits.

“In terms of the clients of Cresteramics, it creates a sense of pride in their community,” McCready said. “The clients have a real sense of belonging and are really proud to be part of this group of students. Many of the clients have little or no access to children in any other avenue of their lives — they usually live with peers of a similar age, or with aging clients. This program allows interactions with children, which is a joy for them.”

It also allows friendships to evolve.

“When one of the participants was sick, the students made him a large get well card they had made individual pictures for,” said McCready. “This poster is precious to him, and he still has it on his wall now several months later.

“Due to their attendance at ARES, many students and their parents recognize and greet our clients at the local grocery stores, restaurants, the recreation center, parks and other local places.”

McLean said her students experience many benefits, too.

“The social-emotional learning from their time spent with Ernie, Janice and Pat is incredible to witness,” she said. “Students learn to recognize similarities in others, rather than focus on difference.

“They develop communications skills, such as hand-shaking, making eye contact, smiling and initiating friendly greetings. They learn to be fair and respectful of individuals who visit our classroom and school, and to connect with the outside community in a positive way.”