Oh “Yes I Can.”
Although COVID-19 has cancelled many events over the past three months, the Council of Exceptional Children, Chapter 289 wasn’t going to let a pandemic get in the way of its annual awards gala.
The event, traditionally held at Michelangelo’s Banquet Centre in the month of June, was established to celebrate the achievements of students with exceptionalities and the adults who support and advocate for them. This year, 33 students from the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board were recognized in the various categories, along with an outstanding Catholic educator and a committed school team.
In the absence of an awards ceremony, the awards were distributed during the week of June 8 to the student recipients in recognition of their special achievements. An official presentation for staff will be held in the fall.
Sadly, Educational Assistant Wanda Girard will never know the impact she had on the staff, students and families of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Elementary School, where she worked as an Educational Assistant until her passing on September 3, 2019.
“The heart and soul of St. Kateri,” Girard was awarded the President’s Award for Educational Support Professional posthumously for her tireless efforts to ensure that all students – especially those with exceptionalities – had the opportunities, tools and support to grow academically and realize their full potential in all areas of school life.
A loving mother, Girard is said to have brought those same qualities to her work.
“It was her mission to not only ensure the academic growth of each student but to also ensure their personal and spiritual growth,” said nominator, Principal Tracey Brown. “She was an open book, no need for flash or sizzle – just an honest, genuine and hardworking approach with the students’ learning and welfare always being the ultimate goal.”
She modelled what it meant to be a caring, compassionate, empathetic, positive and contributing member of the school community, added Brown.
“For those families fortunate enough to have Ms. Girard supporting their child, Ms. Girard many times became more than an educator. She would often provide families with respite care, attend birthday celebrations, sporting events, baptisms, confirmations and so much more. For many families, she was an extension of their family.”
Girard passed away unexpectedly in September 2019, leaving her school community in shock. It was the example of her own life and commitment to the students in her care that enabled the students and staff to carry on despite their heartbreak and grief, said Brown.
“Her work ethic, willingness to help others and her dedication to the role and to her colleagues far surpassed the expectations of her job description. She was the person who set the bar and then once others caught up, raised the bar again.”
“Ms. Girard made a difference and the growth and character of all those she supported is a testament to the impact she had on not only those students, but also their families, the school community and the staff of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.”
While Wanda Girard supported students with special needs in the classroom, a transition coordinator and a team of custodial workers at St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School helped to prepare them for their transition from school to the workplace.
The school team, comprised of Board Transition Coordinator Theresa Haworth and St. Thomas More custodial staff, Charles Sferrazza, John Fortino, Serge Lauzon and Adelmo Corsini, was recognized by The Council for Exceptional Children, Chapter 289, with the President’s Adult Award in the Educational Team category for their efforts to provide meaningful work and skills development opportunities for students with special needs.
As a parent of a student who benefitted from a supported work experience at St. Thomas More, nominator Linda Morelli was able to see firsthand the impact on students with special needs. The experience enabled Morelli’s son Anthony to gain valuable employability skills, “knowing that, at his adolescent age – just like his neurotypical peers – he needed to acquire skills for the workforce.”
Praising Haworth for her efforts to ensure “that all special needs children have the right to access employment given their God-given strengths,” Morelli added that her commitment and goodness were equally matched by Head Custodian Charlie Sferrazza and his fellow custodians who nurtured and supported Anthony throughout his placement, and made him feel part of the team.
“Together these individuals work as a team to mentor students with exceptional needs in our school community,” wrote Morelli. “Their commitment and countless hours of work alongside our teaching staff have benefitted our students more than can be expressed in words. They play a significant role in the life of these students by allowing them to grow in confidence by teaching them work skills that will make them productive members of the community.”
She added that the experience has shown her, as a parent of a young adult with special needs, that the board’s philosophy of “Each Belongs” is not only realized at all levels of the school but that the vision is believed and authentically practised by all staff.
Because of that, Anthony not only achieved an education, but skills for the workforce.
“What they have done is promoted a positive school culture so that those within the school and in the community realize that our son has potential.”
Anthony isn’t the only one who “can.” In addition to the adult awards, the council recognized a number of student nominees from the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board for the “Yes I Can” Awards in the area of academics, employment, athletics, self-advocacy, technology, arts, and independent living skills.Academics:
Tafara Nyadzayo, Cathedral HS
Cecilia Bartolozzi , St. James the Apostle CES
Mia DiGiosaffatte, St. David CES
Damien Dos Santos, Guardian Angels CES
Milan Kuruc, St. John the Baptist CES
Riley Mattson, St. Thomas the Apostle CES
Christina Pingay, St. David CES
Natalie Pingay, St. David CES
James Wiseman, St. Joachim CES
Jason Youkhana, St. James the Apostle CESEmployment:
Aziz Alshenaiber, Bishop Tonnos CSS
Sally Asi, St. Thomas More CSS
Hasim Tahir, St. John Henry Newman CSSAthletics:
Pablo Busatmante, St. John Henry Newman CSS
Mason Sajder, St. John Henry Newman CSS
Leland Hendrie, Immaculate Conception CES
Preston Power, Our Lady of the Assumption CES
Roedane Williams, St. Kateri Tekakwitha CESSelf-Advocacy:
Cecila Belcourt, St. John the Baptist CES
Seth Boyd, St. Martin of Tours CES
Caleb Mercuri, St. John Paul II CES
Sofia Swietek, St. Teresa of Calcutta CES
Matthew Stokes, St. Michael CES
Zachary Wylie, Sts. Peter and Paul CESTechnology:
Carter Bissonnette, Holy Name of Jesus CES
Liam Chorley, St. Ann (Hamilton) CES
Andre Eesif, St. Gabriel CES
Olivia Emberson, St. Michael CES
Christian Harrypersaud, Guardian Angels CES
Mateo Ospina-Ramierez, St. Gabriel CESArts:
Joshua Klodnicki, St. Ann (Hamilton) CESIndependent Living Skills:
Elisia Fede, St. Mark CES
Emma Roppoli, St. Marguerite d’Youville CES
Sofia Viera, St. Eugene CES