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By: Ronda PaynePublished On: July 2, 2020
At Ashton College, we are proud and grateful to have an amazing team of professional instructors to educate the students who put their trust in us. Without the deep understanding, experience and care each of our instructors brings, our students wouldn’t be the success stories they are and Ashton College certainly wouldn’t be recognized as an exemplary school. One of our leading instructors is Suzanne Adams. She was the driving force behind the creation of our Education Assistant program, is instrumental to our Community Support Worker program and continues to teach students in both.
The Education Assistant Course went to a COVID-regulation-friendly online format mid-term and Suzanne is preparing the new online Community Support Worker program so that it will be ready to go live in September. Her background, quick-thinking and easy-going nature has allowed Ashton College to deliver these essential programs through the LIVE online platform while giving her the ability to continue to put students first.
A special teacher
Suzanne’s background is a little different than that of other instructors and we think this is partly what allows her to connect so directly with her students. It was her own small-town high school experience that led her to appreciate the role of an Education Assistant, long before the role was in place in traditional education settings. Living on Moresby Island in the archipelago now known as Haida Gwaii, she caught a glimpse of the positive influence a teacher could create – not just for the student with special needs, but with all students in the class.
“When I was 14 years old, there was a Down Syndrome student in my class that I will never forget,” Suzanne explains. “Our teacher was wonderful with her and allowed her to ‘shine’ every day. She was one of us even before ‘inclusion’ was a topic.”
And in that way, Suzanne lived the experience of inclusive education and went on to appreciate the rippling benefits. This was the catalyst that created her desire to become a teacher; one that would lead the way to her helping those with special needs.
Becoming a teacher
Years passed and for a time, Suzanne forgot about her dream to be a teacher and assist those with special needs. Fortunately, she found her way back to it and earned her degree in Child Psychology and Education. She then worked as an Education Assistant, but notes the in-class environment was very different from what today’s Education Assistants experience.
Then, when her son started school, her world shifted and she was pulled into another direction in education.
“I saw his struggling,” she says. “He became my number one priority. I took him out of the school he was in, away from the teachers who did not understand him.”
She homeschooled her son and before long, other parents began asking her for help. She took other students on and converted her dining room into a classroom. For five years, Suzanne worked with parents, teachers and students; adapting and modifying curriculum to help kids excel rather than be held back or left feeling like they were anything but smart.
“All of these kids eventually went back to public school with the skills they needed to excel,” she says. “I went back to work.”
New types of work and returning to teaching
Work at that point was with youth at risk. She interacted with kids who were living on the streets, listened and did her best to help them be safe. When that role concluded she went on to teach adults with developmental disabilities necessary life skills.
“Every day was a joy with them, their excitement hardly contained,” she says.
Then, Suzanne’s life shifted again, and she and her husband found themselves taking over a college. She wrote the Educational Assistant program and for seven years taught it to students who could go out and be the positive force in the world Suzanne herself wanted to see. He students were sought out because of the education and skills they had acquired.
“I am happy to say this program was the first of its kind in the private post-secondary world,” she says.
She taught the program until 2016 – the last four years through an institution that had obtained her college – then found Ashton College. She wrote Ashton’s Education Assistant program and taught the first classes in 2017. While things went on relatively smoothly, in 2020, COVID had other plans in mind.
COVID and human services education
With more than 30 years of working in the human services field, Suzanne found herself making quick decisions to ensure students in her classes and those who needed Education Assistants wouldn’t be left behind in the pandemic. She had been teaching in an in-class environment for 16 years, but found herself moving to the online environment like many others.
Ashton College’s online education platform, LIVE Online, made sure the tools were already in place to make it possible. She was able to take her students out of their in-person environment into a virtual classroom space and keep their education moving forward. While the government was advising Canadians and British Columbians on how to best stay safe, Suzanne felt like she needed to keep teaching while helping her students stay safe as well.
“I needed to allow my students, who were now staying home, to feel that level of safety with their education,” she says. “I am glad that the support I have received from everyone at Ashton College has been there. Monthly, weekly, daily, hourly, whenever it has been needed, I’ve had it.”
She says the transition was relatively easy; it was something she and her students did together and found a greater connection in doing so.
“With support from Ashton College, I can continue to challenge myself as an instructor and model flexibility and resiliency to my students,” she says. “My students were able to continue their studies without interruption.”
While Suzanne is devoted to her current students, she also stays in contact with past graduates of her programs to celebrate their joys and lend an ear to the struggles.
“They are forever in my heart,” she says.
As the Education Assistant course continues online and the Community Support Worker program joins it within our LIVE online platform, we will be able to offer these programs and Suzanne’s experience, to students who want flexible learning options. Without Suzanne’s knowledge and guidance, this wouldn’t be possible. Teachers like her make Ashton the school it is today.