Tucked away in a small corner classroom of David Thompson Secondary School, an assortment of students gathers to go over their current class work, assignments and learning progression.The conversation soon shifts to a critique of The Hunger Games, prompted by a visually artistic project completed by one of the students.
What sounds like an ordinary conversation between kids enjoying themselves is an everyday occurrence in the GOLD Program (Gifted Learning Disabled Program) offered at David Thompson Secondary.
Each GOLD student in the program faces challenges that hinder their educational progression. These challenges can range from autism, attention deficit disorders, organizational skills and written output disorder.
This doesn't defer from the passion and depth of knowledge that each of the students carries with them. Kenzie Bain, Grade 9 artist of The Hunger Games project, says it was difficult in elementary school with her disability. Once she hit secondary school and the GOLD Program, her teachers have been able to adjust and maximize her learning in the classroom.
"In one of my classes, the teacher had moved kids who were failing next to me so that I could help them," explains Bain.
Conceived as a haven for these exceptional students to find support, guidance or even just a friendly face to talk to when anxiety takes over, the GOLD Program has been around for nearly 20 years as part of the VSB, having originated at Prince of Wales Secondary.
The program at David Thompson is supported by supervising instructor Janet McCarron. Having taught English and resource classes prior to her position within GOLD, McCarron had made a chance phone call to inquire about the program when considering applying to the job.
"I had phoned the program at Prince Wales and had a student answer the phone. When I explained who I was and why I was calling, the student was just so passionate about the GOLD Program and their experiences that I was convinced into taking the job," she says.
Through building relationships with students from Grade 8-12, McCarron is able to see their progression through regular visits. While Grade 8 students who are new to the program will meet with her once per day, other students may only have a scheduled visit every other day.
Other students in the program are able to relate through identifiable challenges that are easier to navigate with support from their colleagues. Cheyenne Needham, a Grade 9 student who had recently come into the program from another school, expressed that he had difficulty sitting in class for an hour.
"I often know the answer, but showing the work is the challenge," said Needham.
Oak Shannon, a Grade 12 student who was affectionately referred to as 'The Mad Scientist' by his peers, has an adept knowledge of IT and computer programming. With proven strengths in technology, Shannon is pursuing four additional IT courses through King George Secondary that will offer him hands-on experience and course credits to transfer to BCIT.
The GOLD Program looks to encourage these interests, ideally allowing students to pursue an education that is suited to their pace of learning and their specific disability. The ability to confide in other students, relate to them on a personal level and engage with them on an educational level distinguishes the GOLD Program as being not your average classroom.
For the students, it's a refuge, a community and a place just to be comfortable with who they are. For McCarron, it's a source of incredible promise.
"This program is extraordinary. The kids just blow my mind with their amazing range of interests, but at the same time it can get frustrating when they are confronted with roadblocks to learning. They have so much potential, so much to offer," she says.
For more information on the GOLD Program at VSB: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/programs/gold-gifted-learning-disabled-program
For more art from GOLD Program student Kenzie Bain: http://imwithcrazy.deviantart.com/