Friday, July 10, 2020

Cheers to the special Class of 2020!

Cheers to the Class of 2020!

By Kristin McNeill, Randy Pinsky and Wendy Singer

The COVID-19 pandemic robbed the Class of 2020 of the traditional walk across the stage to the cheers of family and friends, and the opportunity to celebrate as a class one last time. But their teachers and staff were not about to let this milestone pass unmarked. 

The Inspirations team checked in with some of our special schools to find out how they celebrated their Class of 2020. As you'll see, staff went all out, organizing creative and touching graduation events and activities that met physical distancing requirements. Students completed their year feeling celebrated and staff had a gratifying send off for their students. 

Special needs schools did open briefly in June, and we take the opportunity here to report on the experience. We extend a big thank you to all who shared their stories with us. 

Congratulations to the Class of 2020 for all that you have accomplished. Have a great summer, and best of luck as you begin the next chapter of your lives!

Mackay Centre and Philip E. Layton Schools 
celebrate grads on campus, online and at home

Graduates walk to their graduation ceremony at the Mackay Centre and 
Philip E. Layton campus in NDG.

In normal years, the Mackay Centre and Philip E. Layton (PEL) Schools (English Montreal School Board - EMSB) graduation ceremony is an elaborate and emotional event. While circumstances did not permit for a grandiose grad this year, it did not alter the strong sentiments that this major life event brings with it. 

Class of 2020 graduate Michael Andan at
Mackay Centre and PEL Schools.
On the very hot day of June 19, 15 graduates and their parents attended a special ceremony set up on the lawn of the school, with ample space to accommodate social distancing and tents to protect from the sun and heat. 

Thirteen Grade 6 Mackay Centre School students graduated this year. Many will be moving on to other high school programs, the Senior class at Mackay or one of their two satellite classes. “The teachers have taken a huge initiative to make graduation special for these kids,” said Mr. Gregory Watson, vice-principal of the Mackay Centre and PEL Schools. "It’s tough because our Grade 6 students don’t necessarily move on together as they come from so many different areas.”

The Mackay Centre School celebrated three graduates at the senior level. Two of these students - one from the Mackay Centre Senior Class, the other from Westmount High School’s Satellite Class had attended Mackay from pre-K to age 21. “These families have been involved with the Centre for 17 years. It’s a big deal,” said Mr. Watson.

One student graduated from the Royal Vale Satellite Class, which is specifically for deaf students. Her ceremony was virtual, with her class, teachers and both rehab and education staff, who have worked with her over the years, in attendance. Staff went all out, preparing a special slide show and speeches, and even shipped a graduation cap with tassel to the student's home.
The Mackay Centre and Philip E. Layton Schools graduation ceremony.

Two graduates from Philip E. Layton School were treated to a drive-by ceremony at their home with their teachers the following week. 
Saying goodbye was difficult, no matter which level the student graduated from. “While attending our school, the students and their families build strong relationships with other students, teachers, PABs (personal support workers) and the rehabilitation staff and therapists that have been working with them over the years,” said Mr. Watson. “This was the last time they’ll all be together, and they have been such a huge part of each other’s lives.”

Giant Steps bundles memories with photo books and videos
Jonathan Bourassa wearing his graduation
sweatshirt from Giant Steps School.
(Photos, Karine Daniel)
In culmination of the school year, more than 100 Giant Steppers got together over Zoom to celebrate the graduation of those transitioning to other school-type settings such as vocational training, adult education, and the Miriam Home day program. While Giant Steps will be hosting an in-person ceremony in the fall, graduates received personalized photo books assembled by their teachers as a keepsake of their special memories. Those who live in the country were also thrilled with visits by staff members to wrap up their Giant Steps experience. 
Of particular poignancy was one graduate who had attended Giant Steps since he was 3 years old; “We were literally a part of his life,” noted Director General Thomas Henderson. Social stories were created to facilitate understanding the concept of moving on from Giant Steps.

In both the photo books and virtual celebration, teachers, staff and families heartfully shared stories about their experiences, demonstrating the bonds created, even at a distance.  

Louis Martin with his parents Antonia Maioni and
Pierre Martin, watching a video with messages from staff and
friends from Giant Steps. Classroom staff are seen
physically distancing in the background.

L.I.N.K.S. celebrated with in-person ceremony

Maria Caldarella, principal at L.I.N.K.S. in Ahuntsic (EMSB), was excited to share her school’s plans for its five graduating students. Along with their families, the students were invited to an outdoor ceremony on school grounds on June 19. Each family sat at its own table, with the proper distancing between others. Teachers gave testimonials about each graduate and presented them with their certificate in a gift portfolio with a scrapbook of photos. Because others in the school couldn’t be at the gathering, staff created a letter-writing project – a farewell letter to each from their friends at L.I.N.K.S.

The release of balloons into the sky presented a beautiful visual. “It was a special moment, feeling, an end,” said Ms. Caldarella.

A virtual prom party was held on the Microsoft Teams platform, but the in-person, live event is what everyone was really looking forward to. “It’s really to see everyone,” said Ms. Caldarella. “It’s really to have the feeling, ‘I did it.’”

REACH High School and Adam's PACE 
take graduation joy to the streets

This year, Adam’s PACE and REACH celebrated their graduations with a parade that garnered attention from beyond the walls of the schools. Adam’s PACE is an inclusive post-secondary program and an extension of Riverside School Board’s (RSB) alternative services, designed to meet the needs of students who are in their final years of schooling. Four students graduated this year.  

Student Thanasi and
Marie Helen Goyetche, principal of REACH.
(Photos, Kelly Waugh)
REACH, located in St. Lambert, offers an alternate educational program within the continuum of services offered by the RSB, offering occupational therapy, speech language and communication, and a CLSC nurse when necessary.

Under the leadership of principal Marie-Helen Goyetche, the administrations of REACH and Adam’s PACE came together to make some noise in the streets as they celebrated the graduation of four students from PACE and two from REACH. Staff paraded from house to house with cake and gifts, caps and gowns and of course, diplomas in hand. Students from PACE were also honoured with special awards.
Graduate Devon and his teacher Chrissy Bell. 
Staff made big placards with photos of each graduate on them. Passersby, including police and truck drivers, raised the energy even higher by honking and cheering as they drove by.

It was special on many levels, as reported by Ms. Goyetche. “A lot of the staff hadn’t seen each other since March, so it was nice to be together.  Everyone pitched in and it really came together. We feel good knowing that we did something special for our grads. There were lots of tears from the parents. They got their much-needed closure.” 

Summit School grads visited by party bus  

Summit School usually celebrates three levels of graduates at the end of each school year (elementary, high school and the TECC program) with an elaborate ceremony and party at the Chateau Royal. They plan on holding an 'official' graduation ceremony when time allows, but in the meanwhile, the staff organized something extra special to provide their Class of 2020 with a little extra joy.

Over two days, the staff boarded two rented buses that were decorated with graduation signs and pumped out celebratory tunes, and visited each of the students' houses. Each student posed for professional photos donning their cap and gown. All graduates received flowers from Summit Flora and pastries from Summit's TECC Bistro. It was a celebration that grads and their families, and staff will cherish! "This was the next best thing that we could think of to celebrate our Class of 2020," said Herman Erdogmus, principal of Summit School.

In addition, graduates of the LaurenHill annex gathered on the decorated lawn of the school. Each family came at a different time to take photos in their cap and gown. They, too, received flowers and pastries.

Hats off to the grads at John Grant High School

John Grant High School in Côte Saint-Luc (EMSB) prepared a “Hats off to the grads” ceremony in mid-June for students, their families and friends. Principal Jennifer LeHuquet described the ways grads were honoured: Students received a celebration bag containing a graduation hoodie and other goodies, which was delivered to them in person ahead of the ceremony. 

Ms. LeHuquet made an address, which students watched online. Grads also heard from student Hamzah Patel, who delivered a farewell speech, and different staff members “spoke on their behalf about their journey and their accomplishments,” she explained. “We looked to create a family feel and intimate affair.” 

Also part of the ceremony was a special, live virtual performance by autism advocate Steven Atme and the traditional “throwing of the hats,” which was done streaming by Zoom in their individual homes.

“The graduation committee worked hard all year long to raise money towards their grad. They were fully on board with these plans but still want a homecoming when gatherings are allowed again so that they can walk across the stage and receive their official certificates,” she said.

Peter Hall honours 2020 grads and parents
On June 25, Peter Hall School organized a car parade to celebrate this year's graduating class. Parents drove their children past stations such as a candy bar and photo booth where they posed for pictures in their caps and gowns and receive personalized photo books. 

Jeremy Daoust-Rojas and his family driving through at the Peter Hall graduation.
“The staff committees really pulled together to make this a special occasion for the graduates,” noted Valérie Arsenault, principal of Peter Hall School's Côte-Vertu Campus, making particular reference to Marie-Claude Forest, director of pedagogical services, as the event mastermind. We really have a dream team. 
“At Peter Hall, a huge emphasis is on the students, but also on the staff and parents, said Ms. Arsenault. Recognizing that this has been a very difficult time for caregivers, the staff created a video just for them. Heartfelt messages included encouraging ones such as “take things one day at a time; don't forget to give yourself a pat on the back; you’ve got this; and most powerfully, let it go- no one is perfect. 

How was the return to school? 
Insights in preparing for the fall

The Mackay Centre and PEL Schools 

The Mackay Centre and PEL Schools welcomed approximately 31 students back to class once the school reopened on June 1. According to Mr. Watson, the students and staff managed quite well. Staff were divided into classroom teams that mainly consisted of teachers, childcare workers and PABs, with nurses moving between classrooms. “Students and staff in each class were functioning as isolated teams to limit contact with others,” said Mr. Watson, adding that the Physical Education team staggered the timing of recess so each class could be outside one at a time. “It was a challenge, but for the most part the kids were really good.”

Due to the nature of the school and the needs of the students, physical distancing was not always possible. Staff members needed to be close to students, particularly those in wheelchairs. They wore personal protective equipment when working in close proximity with children, be it for toileting, feeding or other needs. Gowns and masks were changed between students, equipment was sanitized after each use and was not shared, short of balls that could be kicked around at recess.

“We see we can manage,” said Mr. Watson. “We marked all hallways to indicate two-metre separations and the Phys. Ed. teachers used cones and plastic circles to mark spaces outside when needed. Fortunately, our hallways were designed to be wide enough to accommodate two wheelchairs.” 

Giant Steps School 
While many parents opted to keep their children home when classes resumed in June, Giant Steps was happy to welcome those who decided to come back. “This was a good opportunity to develop protocols for how this could work when we return full-steam in the fall,” shared Mr. Henderson. 
While successful, the reopening was not without challenges, particularly as many students require emotional and physical support. “But with some creativity, we were able to make it work,” commented Mr. Henderson.
“And there have been some important silver linings in this experience. For instance, the occupational therapy team recognized the value of regular chats with the parents and will be maintaining that practice moving forward.”

Peter Hall School
“No one was sure how the return to school would go,” reflected Ms. Arsenault. “However it has gone really well. Everyone is benefitting from the opportunity to be one-on-one with the students, and numbers have actually increased.” 
A great deal of preparation took place prior to the return, including the compilation of social stories to explain changes, and the hiring of a full-time social worker.
“It’s the unknown that causes anxiety,” said Ms. Arseneault. “But we are showing the parents and families we can manage this and that gives them confidence.”

We wish everyone a restful, healthy and fun summer. 
Cheers to the Class of 2020!! 


Monday, October 7, 2019

More than just a dislocated knee:
McGill’s Congress on ‘Whole Person Care

By Randy Pinsky 

Busy hospital rooms, rushing medical staff...who has the time to consider patients as people? Is it not simply more efficient to approach cases as ‘the dislocated knee in room 4B’?

While a common reality, this does not necessarily need to be the case, argue the coordinators of McGill University’s Third International Congress on Whole Person Care. Guest speakers and participants from more than 12 countries will focus on the theme of “Exploring Compassion, Addiction, and Culture Change” at the McGill New Residence Hall, 3625 Avenue du Parc from October 17 to 20. While organized by the Faculty of Medicine, the team reinforces that the messages conveyed are relevant for all. 

“Medicine has become so technical, so complex, that we sometimes forget that there is a whole person there,'' shared Dr. Tom Hutchinson, congress director and head of the Programs in Whole Person Care at McGill University. In striving for efficiency, the patient as an entity has faded from view. As a result, they are routinely identified as pathologies and conditions to be fixed, rather than humans with ailments.

A lack of resources combined with managerial struggles can understandably lead to harried workplaces where patient input is under-sought. But in being considered as a passive recipient of care as opposed to an active partner in the process, recovery can be compromised.

“The energy for healing comes from the patient. They need to feel validated - as a person - to get better,” reinforced Hutchinson. So it is back towards this relationship and way of thinking the congress is striving for; one “medicine can either get in the way of...or else contribute to.” 

The concept of whole person care was popularized (though not coined) by Dr. Patch Adams, proponent of using humour in medicine, and focus of the film by the same name, powerfully portrayed by the legendary Robin Williams. When confronted about his unconventional approach to treating patients, Adams responded, “Is not a doctor just someone who helps someone else?” 

This simple yet profound truth cuts through the efficiency and alludes to the frequently forgotten essence of medicine. The emphasis on helping and healing over curing and solving is among the take-away messages for the participants (be they fresh out of med school or with decades of experience), to return home, renewed and recommitted. 

The message of viewing the patient as a whole was also evocatively expressed in the film when a woman suffering from diabetic complications was being examined by a buzz of med students. While discussing her condition as one would a chunk of marble, Adams quietly inquired from the back: “What’s her name?,” hinting at what medicine had become.

The Whole Person Care Congress seeks to directly address these issues, starting with a book launch on MD Aware: A Mindful Medical Practice Course Guide,discussing the need for humanism, self-care and compassion in medical education. This will be followed by a presentation by Dr. Gabor Maté. 

McGill is already ahead of other medical schools with its compulsory Programs in Whole Person Care integrated in its curriculum. To have both such a program as well as host this conference, adds further legitimacy to the concept. 

In reflecting on the motivation for coordinating congresses such as these, Hutchinson shared: “It is to remind practitioners - both new and old - that we are dealing with people, and they are who give what we do, life.” 

For information or to register, visit

Monday, September 16, 2019

#1000joursAH social movement to 
map accessibility,
200 volunteers needed!

This is an important initiative launched by that we want to share with you!

The #1000joursAH social movement aims to map all public locations before 2022.

On September 24, 25 and 26, will hold a 400-location mapping event in downtown Montreal. The first event of the #1000joursAH movement, it aims to map the actual accessibility of downtown Montreal's public locations. They will then share the information with the public, allowing them to discover a whole new world of accessible locations that may fit their needs. 

Downtown Montreal, with its 5,000 stores and businesses, is vital for greater Montreal’s economy and social life. That is why it was deemed the best place to officially start #1000joursAH movement.

200 volunteers needed!
In order to make this event a success, OnRoule is looking for 200 volunteers. Come for just the morning, afternoon or full day. A lunch will be offered, and you will receive you own brand new, humorous OnRoule T-shirts :)

Register here

See the full schedule below.

Cartographier 400 commerces en 3 jours : 
200 bénévoles recherchés!

Le mouvement #1000joursAH, vous connaissez? Lancé par, il vise à cartographier la totalité des lieux publics d’ici 2022.

Les 24-25-26 septembre prochain, organise 3 jours de cartographie de l’accessibilité de 400 commerces du centre-ville de Montréal, dans le cadre du mouvement #1000joursAH. Le but est de faire un état des lieux de l’accessibilité actuelle des lieux publics et de rendre l’information disponible aux citoyens afin que ceux-ci puissent découvrir une multitude de nouveaux lieux dont l’accessibilité (souvent partielle) conviendra à leurs besoins, même si celle-ci ne peut convenir à tous (concept d’accessibilité humaine - AH). Une cartographie simple et rapide à mettre en place, offrant une solution complémentaire aux efforts de l’accessibilité universelle. 

Fort de près de 5 000 commerces en tous genres, le centre-ville est un incontournable de la vie économique et sociale du grand Montréal Métropolitain. C’est donc l’endroit idéal où réaliser le premier événement du mouvement #1000joursAH.

200 bénévoles recherchés!
Pour y arriver, OnRoule recherche près de 200 bénévoles. Vous pouvez vous impliquer le temps d’un avant-midi, d’un après-midi, ou encore toute la journée, selon vos disponibilités. Un lunch vous sera offert, et vous recevrez l’un des T-shirts humoristiques OnRoule.

Inscrivez-vous ici :

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Rick Lavoie teaches parents, educators 
to give positive messages, build on strengths 

By Cindy Davis and Wendy Singer

Christopher Simeone, Rick Lavoie, Linda Aber and
Pam Wener at Ruby Foo's Hotel in Montreal on June 1.
(Photos, Sana Nakleh)
The Montreal Centre for Learning Disabilities brought world-renowned special educator Rick Lavoie to town June 1 to share his teachings in a daylong seminar with nearly 200 teachers, special educators, professionals and parents. Author Lavoie is known for his popular video How Difficult Can This Be: The F.A.T. City Workshop, which allows viewers to experience the frustration, anxiety and tension that children with learning disabilities face in their daily lives.

With his warm sense of humour and gift for story-telling, Lavoie had the audience captivated right from the beginning. He recounted how he was punished often as a child due to his “tremendous” ADHD. The principal and I shared an office!” His experience, and that of a family member who struggled with learning difficulties, provided him first-hand insight into the challenges that children with learning disabilities face on a daily basis, both at home and at school.

Lavoie’s morning session focused on strategies to help improve the behaviour of children, sharing powerful messages that encouraged participants to look at discipline and reactions to behaviour in a different light. He used the example of the “attention seeker,” who may be relentless and is therefore viewed as annoying and ripe for punishment. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease because the squeaky wheel needs the grease,” he said. “We can ignore the behaviour, but not the need.”

                                      Lavoie describes three axioms of the child with learning disabilities:
Rick Lavoie
   1. They don’t want your power; they want some of their own  power.
   2.  If you wouldn’t do it to an adult, don’t do it to a kid.
   3. The pain that a troubled child causes is never greater than the pain that he feels.

According to Lavoie, a child’s identity is completely wrapped up in school, and if he is not succeeding at school, then his impression is that he is failing every day. And, he is probably being punished for his school results and behaviour. Lavoie explains that direction should always be positive. “This hurt runs deep .Negative feedback stops the behaviour, but only in that iteration. Plus, the message gets lost in the fear and anxiety surrounding the punishment. Positive feedback changes behaviour. Changes are gradual but the stress of failure is eliminated."

In the afternoon session, Lavoie focused his conversation on strategies for educators working with parents of children with learning disabilities. He compared the struggle that some parents have with their children’s social issues with that of professionals with patients in crisis mode: their concerns must be taken very seriously, but the child or patient’s actions must not be taken personally. Lavoie said that learning disabilities are often characterized as being classroom problems, but they in fact have an impact on every moment in a child’s day, including sleep. He spoke of some of the 15 areas he identifies in his book It's So Much Work to Be Your Friend in which children with learning disabilities may struggle, and that by lacking in some of these areas, children sometimes break what he calls “social contracts.” He then detailed a process he developed called a “social skills autopsy,” which  is a process used to analyze and correct a break in the social contract.  With the child, he determines the cause of the break, evaluates the extent of the damage, and then gains knowledge which will prevent recurrence.

Lavoie was engaging and relatable, and used personal stories, as well as stories from his practice and career, to solidify his points. One of his most effective analogies was the family of five sleeping on a waterbed. “They are all feeling the waves created by the movement of each member,” he explained. 

The Montreal Centre for Learning Disabilities team. 
Lavoie’s teachings provide deep insight and direction on how to better the lives of children with learning disabilities and the overall health of the family. Stay positive, build on strengths, use “could” instead of “should,” and avoid expressing disappointment, because, he said, your child is probably already overly disappointed in himself.

Lavoie is also the author of  Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Successand The Motivation Breakthrough.

Thanks to the MCLD for an enlightening day!

Listen to our Inspirations podcast 
with host Mark Bergman and Rick Lavoie
 right here!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Autism Monologues, AWKWARD HUG at the St-Ambroise Montréal Fringe Festival

The Autism Monologues 
and the Montreal premiere of 
Awkward Hug
 at the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival


The Autism Monologues

By Cindy Davis

See me. Hear me.

That is the fundamental message in The Autism Monologues, a play written by Christine Rodriguez and directed by Jen Viens, playing now as part of the St-Ambroise Festival Fringe de Montréal. A follow-up to Rodriguez’s award-winning play Dreaming in Autism, which is an auto-biographical account of her own experience having a son with mild autism, this play widens the lens and brings audiences into the lives of more than two dozen characters, each impacted by the disorder in some way.

“Autism is diverse,” says Rodriguez in a press release. “There is a spectrum of symptoms that range from mild to severe. There is far more than one story to tell. Through The Autism Monologues, I’m able to present autism from many different points of view.”

The cast of The Autism Monologues.

The play consists of a series of short vignettes portraying the multiple faces of autism. From a parent dealing with the diagnosis and struggling to access services, to a therapist detailing the difficulties in her work, to a police officer describing the takedown of an erratic four-year-old with autism at a press conference, every scenario shows a real and raw look at the disorder. Distinctly Montreal, the play makes several references to local spots, government agencies, and reminds the audience on several occasions that it understands the nuances of the city and province in which we live.

The cast of five actors do a wonderful job in taking the audience on the journey with them. Most commendable are the portrayals of individuals with autism – from a nonverbal child, to a likable teen with Asperger’s syndrome lamenting the fact that he believes the disorder is responsible for his restricted iPad use – this play does a fantastic job in demonstrating how autism affects every one differently. 

On its opening night, the audience was visibly taken with many of the scenes, with some nodding in agreement at the anguish of family members. At one point, an audience member shouted “just show them love!” in response to a scene with a character who did not know how to properly engage with a child with autism. Crying was audible during several dramatic scenes dealing with accidental death and suicide.

This play does not sugarcoat autism and its impact on those living with it, and genuinely demonstrates the ripple effect it has on family members, caregivers and society as a whole. It is powerful, well acted, and relatable to so many.

The Autism Monologues runs until June 17 at Studio Jean-Valcourt au Conservatoire. For information, visit and for tickets go to


Don't miss AWKWARD HUG, playing until June 17. With laugh-out-loud humour and heart- breaking honesty, AWKWARD HUG transports us to the discomfort of navigatingadulthood for the rst time. Through masterful storytelling and intimate reflection, Cory explores what constitutes “normal” in our world, and how having two parents with cerebral palsy forces his family outside those margins.

In the summer of 2009, writer and performer Cory Thibert was a quiet 19-year-old living in his parents’ basement. He was working as a server to pay his college tuition, spending time with his animal-loving girlfriend, and starting a theatre company with his best friend. When the Ottawa Affordable Housing Unit informs his parents that they have to move out of the only home Cory has ever known, it sets in motion a series of events that uncover the truth about whathas set his family apart, and force Cory to nd hisvoice...with a scream.

AWKWARD HUG has its Montréal premiere at the St-Ambroise Montréal FRINGE Festival, June 11th to 17th at MAI (Montréal, artsinterculturels). Stay tuned for Cindy's review!

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phone - (613) 724-7093