Thursday, July 7, 2016

End of an Era - Life Skills Reflections (Part 1 - The Kitchen Community)

Eight years ago I applied to Ryerson's Junior Life Skills program.  It was a means to an end.  Ryerson was getting a rebuild and I so desperately wanted to be involved in opening a new school.  I had no idea what the program involved, it was my ticket in the door.  What I very quickly discovered is that I loved this job.  This job was meant for me. Flexible curriculum, increased budget, assistance from amazing Educational Assistants, and the autonomy to go where the learning led us.  I became very passionate about using technology to support our neediest learners and, over the course of eight years, was able to do some really amazing things with kids.

The Special Education department recently decided to close my program (and three others) for a variety of reasons around enrollment, funding, and a change in philosophy that leans towards integration instead of congregated programs at the junior level.  While I 100% disagree with this direction, I must move forward on to something new.  For me, it looks like the next stop is grade three in September.  Normally, I would be spending my last week of school reflecting on the year, and in this case, the last eight years that I've been in this role.  But that was not to be as I missed the last week of school due to a terrible illness.  Now that I'm slowly returning back to the land of the living, I have to pack up my room and get ready for the big move.

My mind is racing with memories and emotions as I move around the room and box up the journey that was Life Skills.  I thought I'd start with an easy part...the classroom kitchen.  Seemed straightforward enough, right?  It was, until I started sorting the items I brought in for Lil Chefs Cooking Club, or the left over aprons from our amazing cooking shows we produced a few years back, or the specialty fish dishes that were gifts to "Gill-Ville".  I spent more than two hours going through four cupboards!  I was so deeply affected by the realization that I'm losing my classroom kitchen and, more importantly, the kitchen community that it created.  I left school that day, unable to focus to accomplish anything else.  Instead, I went home to create this sketchnote in attempts to share my feelings about my classroom kitchen.

This kitchen provided curriculum connections to healthy living and math expectations, in addition to providing nourishment for hungry, disadvantaged bellies. I'm sure you think back to a time when you were little and helped a parent or grandparent make a meal, or cookies, or a special recipe.  If you thought about it, you would recall the smells, the tastes, and the conversations that took place (often not related to academia).  These kitchen activities made us a little more connected, more human.  We shared stories, recipes, memories, and in those moments, completely forgot we were special education learners.  The classroom kitchen really was the envy of all the other classrooms.  The smell of our baking would fill the halls and attract visitors in hopes of being in the right place at the right time.  Our kitchen made us special, but this time in a good way.  We liked to extend our kitchen community and invite others in.  Over the years we did lessons with buddies, hosted staff luncheons and school wide hot dog lunch days, and created personalized gifts for family members. The kitchen not only brought the members of our class together, it also brought us closer to the staff and students in the school.  

And while I thought starting with the classroom kitchen would be the easiest part of packing up Life Skills, I was dead wrong.  This is the part of Life Skills that I think I will miss the most....or until tomorrow when I pack up a different part of the classroom!

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