Monday afternoon is a boisterous time at Codes Country Lanes in Courtenay. A trio of teens — Jordan, Annaka and Sandra — collectively cheer nearly every time a bowling ball strikes the pins.
To their left, Kevin, Kyle and Jacob are more subdued in their celebrations. But their smiles indicate they’re having just as much fun.
The teenagers are participants in a community-based fitness program at Vanier Secondary for students with special needs, where they engage in a daily activity beyond the confines of the school. Bowling is their Monday activity. On Tuesdays, they hit the water at the Aquatic Centre. Wednesday is either pickleball or rock climbing at the wall in Cumberland. The group also enjoys squash, mini golf and walks at destinations such as Seal Bay Park. They also use the riverside fitness equipment by the Filberg Centre.
“We have something different every day,” said Nancy Walowina, one of three educational assistants (EAs) who run the program. “The kids absolutely love it. They’re champing at the bit to go out every day.”
Annaka Code is among the eight participating students.
“This is awesome,” said Annaka, 16. “I was going to stay home today, and then I realized, ‘Wait, it’s bowling’.”
Which happens to be her favourite activity.
Though only in Grade 11, Annaka is already pondering life after high school. Once she graduates, she hopes to take the Early Childhood Education program at North Island College.
“I really like kids,” she said.
Sandra Zehner, 15, has been walking about an hour to school since the program began.
“I used to always take the bus,” she said. “It gets us out of the school. It’s a lot better than doing work.”
Walowina, Beth Bradley and Beth Perry developed the program during PLC (Professional Learning Community) time.
Participating students are in Vanier’s Prep Program — an adapted life skills program for high-functioning students with special needs. Prep is designed to prepare students for independent living when they reach adulthood.
“The kids that were in our PE classes, we noticed they often didn’t do what the other kids were doing, especially in team sports,” Walowina said. “This way they participate in everything we do.”
The program is in its first year.
“We thought if we had this PLC that they would enjoy it a lot more than going to the regular PE classes, and also perform better in the classes afterwards. And they have. We’ve documented it.”
Professional Learning Community is an SD71 program that affords colleagues a chance to collaborate to foster student growth and learning. The fitness program developed because many Prep students struggled to meet the requirements of a regular PE program.
Perry says the small class size parlays into camaraderie, confidence and fitness.
“Their class attendance has improved dramatically,” Perry said. “This program allows them to be in with smaller groups so they can learn a skill. They need a little more time to become good at what they’re doing.”
The students integrate into some classes with their peers.
“(But) The expectations of those classes are not the same as ours,” Perry said.
The fitness program has numerous benefits: improved hygiene, punctuality, independence and better interaction with the public. Some students have formed friendships and participate in activities outside of school.
Brian McAskill, a vice-principal at Vanier, is delighted with the positive outcomes of the PLC.
“It’s a good example of the time that we’ve set aside for the Professional Learning Communities, the benefits it can have and the positive impact it can have on students, especially students that need a little bit more help,” McAskill said. “If we did not have the Professional Learning Community time, it’s a very good chance that program wouldn’t have taken place.”
The program has use of the school’s 15-passenger van, compliments of the alumni association.
“The transportation for them is free because we have that van, so it cuts down the costs quite a bit. And because they’re a program within the school, they can use the facilities in the community at certain times,” McAskill said. “It fits with the program. The goal is to prepare those students to have the skills to enjoy and be able to live life on their own once they’re done high school.”
He expects the fitness program will continue indefinitely.
“There’s some financial costs for the use of the facilities, but we’ve been able to fortunately find the funds to help pay for that. As far as I can tell it will continue. And I think even the Prep program students who didn’t take part in it are excited and looking to take part next year. So I think it will grow in numbers as well.”