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The educators, administrators, key workers and workplaces celebrated by ASEA were nominated because they have dedicated themselves to providing quality instruction, support, or employment for people on the autism spectrum. They are leaders in the Edmonton area who are breaking barriers and opening doors so that children and adults with autism can have meaningful and respectful experiences at all stages of life. These are people who have gone that extra mile to improve the lives of people with autism and their families and to the recognize and harness the full potential of people with autism in our community.
Read on to learn about our remarkable nominees:
Employers and Keyworkers
This year, ASEA is very proud that two nomination were made by, or on behalf of, adults on the autism spectrum who have found meaningful employment. They've found the kind of employment that makes excellent use of the gifts they bring to the workplace.
Workplace of the Year: University of Alberta Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Nutritional Science, Agri-Food Discovery Place - Nominated by Michael Frost
Michael, who has autism, has had an excellent experience working at Agri-Food Discovery place. He explains that "management has created an open and supportive work environment" - an environment that encourages people to learn and strive to do their best every day. Employees are always encouraged to offer their own ideas and creative solutions to problems. This, in turn, "directly contributes to high employee morale. I have yet to come across a situation at work that in the end has not worked out in a positive way for all involved," says Michael.
Bob Rimes, Executive Director, Agri-Food Discovery Place, Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutritional Science (AFNS), University of Alberta - Nominated by Michael Frost
Michael nominated Bob for helping him to create a successful work placement at Agri-Food Discovery Place. As Executive Director, Bob helped to create a position for Michael on the team, and Michael has appreciated Bob's graciousness, support and understanding. By being open to employee ideas and feedback, Bob has encouraged both open communication in the work place and high morale among all employees. Michael says that Bob "has demonstrated a great acceptance for people with disabilities, as well as a respectful accommodation. This has helped me value my role within the workplace. I feel very welcome, knowing that Bob accepts people of all abilities."
Bob has built an extraordinary team of employees around him. Through a leadership style that values feedback from employees about how to improve efficiencies within the work place, along with a great respect for taking carefully calculated risks, he encourages both open communication in the work place and high employee morale among all employees.
Nathan Buzik of the University of Alberta Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Nutritional Science, Agri-Food Discovery Place - Nominated by Michael Frost
Michael nominated Nathan, his primary supervisor, for being a key part of his excellent work environment at Agri-Food Discovery Place. Michael and Nathan worked together for 8 months on a sand slurry test set-up. Michael praises Nathan for his help in making him feel like part of a team, and providing ongoing supports in his work. Nathan has also worked closely with Michael's support staff from Alberta Health Cross Level Support Services to ensure that Michael gets whatever support he needs. He has also given Michael the chance to attend a weekly drop-in support program during regular working hours. Michael says, "I would like to thank Nathan for giving me the opportunity to be part of a workplace that supports and accepts people for who they are and the contribution they can make, regardless of the challenges that they face."
Employer of the Year: Cecilia Kolenchuk, Stantec - Nominated by Youngsoo Kim
Youngsoo's son Jeffrey, who has autism, has worked at Stantec since 2010. During this time, Cecilia has done an extraordinary job as Jeffrey's supervisor. Cecilia was instrumental in getting Jeffrey hired, and since then she's provided a lot of extra support to help him thrive at Stantec. Youngsoo says that Cecilia has been in regular contact with Jeffrey's family and aides to better understand how to accommodate him. She has also advocated for Jeffrey within Stantec, teaching her colleagues how to better work with co-workers who have autism.
Marie Hebert - Nominated by Patricia and Julien Plamondon
Marie teaches Patricia and Julien's son Andre at Ecole Joseph-Moreau Junior High. Andre's parents say they appreciate Marie's advocacy on behalf of the inclusion of all her students, as well as her creativity in problem solving with colleagues to meet needs as they arise. "She ensures that we have the opportunity to voice all our concerns, and truly listens to any suggestions we make in regards to all aspects of André's education," they explain. They add that she "has created numerous materials specific to André's needs, learning style and academic level. She has experimented with various assistive technology tools to find a fit for André. She has gone beyond her job expectations!"
Administrators, Teachers and Educational Aides
ASEA is proud to recognize the tireless efforts of the School Administrators, Teachers and Educational Aides who go that extra mile to ensure that students with Autism Spectrum Disorders get the same excellent educational experiences and opportunities that all students deserve.
Educational Team at Ellerslie Campus (Teacher Mark Campeau, Educational Assistant, Myrna D'Melle, Substitute Educational Assistant, Virginia Hartley, Principal, Henry Madsen & Vice Principal, Matt Evey) - Nominated by Kelly Oostendorp
Kelly nominated the team that supports her son, Tyler, for creating an exceptional learning environment for him. She explains that the entire team made a special effort to get to know Tyler, understand his needs, and build a rapport with him. Kelly talks about how all of the team members fit together to create one effective whole: "The Principal, Henry and Vice Principal, Matt, both helped set up the team. The teacher, Mark, has been excellent in helping Tyler adjust to a new year with new kids. He is always available to talk with and provides Tyler with assistance when needed. Myrna, Tyler's EA, has been a huge part of helping Tyler socialize and to cope in the school environment. Virginia acts as a sub EA, and took on Tyler for two months this school year. She has been a huge part of Tyler's life at school and is always looking out for him!" Overall, Kelly is ecstatic about having such a great team working with her son: "I feel a warm and welcoming feeling at the school", she says, "and I know my child is safe and sound there. I wish all schools could be this wonderful!"
CeCe Johnston, Educational Assistant in the Interactions Classroom at M.E.LaZerte High School - Nominated by Kirsten Richter
Kirsten nominated her colleague CeCe for her exceptional work as an Educational Assistant in her Interactions class, which has 14 students with ASD. Kirsten praises CeCe for working patiently with students and helping them to channel their energies constructively and turn negative behaviours into positive ones. CeCe even takes time out of her weekends to give her students extra support. Kirsten says that Cece "is an incredibly hardworking individual who is very passionate about student success!"
Eric Tully, Educational Assistant in the Interactions Classroom at M.E.LaZerte High School - Nominated by Kirsten Richter
Eric is also an Educational Assistant in Kirsten's Internations class. Kirsten says that "Eric is calm, methodical and incredibly patient with our students." He is a strong advocate for every student, and patiently supports them in every step of the learning process. Eric is especially adept at helping the students use their iPads in helpful ways. He is often setting up educational apps tailored to the students' needs, or helping the students to work with other forms of assistive technology. According to Kirsten, Eric "gives the students the support and structure they need to be successful."
Saul Rodriguez, Educational Assistant in the Interactions Classroom at M.E.LaZerte High School - Nominated by Kirsten Richter
Kirsten says that Saul, who works in her Interactions Classroom, has proven himself a strong advocate for inclusive opportunities for students. Saul has especially excelled at teaching students life skills and helping them develop practical daily routines. He helps the students get hands-on with iPads, puzzles and lego. He also encourages the students to be physically active through sports - He always loves to kick a soccer ball around with their students. "Saul feels that our students have a right and a need to be in the community and to enjoy the same activities as everyone. Our students feel empowered when they are with Saul," says Kirsten, "because he teaches them independence and accountability."
Stan Seifeddine, Educational Assistant in the Interactions Classroom at M.E.LaZerte High School - Nominated by Kirsten Richter
Kirsten also has high praise for Stan, who works as an Educational Assistant in her Interactions class. "Stan has a genuine love for students with special needs and this is evident in how he relates to our autistic students. He is very involved with their specialized programming and is always trying to find new strategies in getting them engaged and learning." Kirsten explains that Stan instills in their students "a confidence and a willingness to try to participate in activities that may not be in their comfort zone. Our students trust Stan - he has a calming influence over them."
Wei Xie, Educational Assistant in the Interactions Classroom at M.E.LaZerte High School - Nominated by Kirsten Richter
Wei is an Educational Assistant in Kirsten's Interactions Classroom at M.E. LaZerte. Wei is diligent and extremely organized, which helps to keep class outings and activities running smoothly. For example, says Kirsten, "our students come to rely on Wei to fix broken zippers, pants that fall down or shirts that are too small." Wei also teaches the students Yoga for its calming and focusing effect, and it has become one of their favourite activities. She develops close relationships with the students and works with them to develop life skills. "Students listen to her and enjoy helping her because she takes a genuine interest in them, and they like her because of it."
Betty Benson, Student Advisor at the Specialized Support & Disabilities Services at the University of Alberta - Nominated by Andrew Ye
Andrew nominated Betty, his Student Advisor at the University of Alberta, for her exceptional work during his first year at the University. Andrew says that Betty was a huge help with navigating funding applications and mediating conflicts, and helped him to get the support he needed to succeed at the U of A. "Betty has increased my self-confidence in my learning. Whenever I need help, I can always go to Betty, and she is always there to help. All that she did for me makes me feel that Betty is a unique and an outstanding person."
Debra Maric, Educational Assistant, St. Gabriel Elementary School - Nominated by Lisa Hughes
Debra works as an Educational Assistant with Lisa's son Ryan, who has severe autism, and spends most of each school day assisting Ryan and one other child. Lisa praises Debra's openness to learning and her willingness to ask questions, rather than make assumptions. "She is extremely patient," says Lisa, and she "has made an outstanding effort to get to know Ryan." Lisa says that Debra strikes a perfect balance between caring and professionalism, and is always ready to adjust her approach so as to better meet Ryan's needs.
Judy McDonald, Educational Assistant, Entwistle School - Nominated by Lauree Pohl
Lauree has high praise for Judy, an Educational Assistant working with her son Erik. Lauree says that Judy has devoted a huge amount of effort to understanding Erik in order to best meet his needs. She has studied language to improve her communication with Erik, and is constantly reading books and articles about autism in her free time. She carefully observes Erik's behaviour, and is always suggesting effective new strategies for developing Erik's social skills and independence. "I have never met a person with more compassion than Judy," says Lauree. "Judy has a unique insight into what makes Erik tick. She is an integral part of the team that is in place to help Erik develop to his full potential."
Professor Melanie Nehim-Bohum, Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta - Nominated by Jeff Belch
Jeff recently began a degree majoring in Native Studies at the U of A, and Melanie was his professor in the Native Studies 101 course. Before the course, she met with Jeff to make sure that she fully understood his autism and how to best accommodate him. After each class, she would talk to Jeff to gauge his progress and offer him positive support. Overall, the class turned out to be a great experience for Jeff. "Melanie is superbly organized, energetic & dynamic, an excellent lecturer, compassionate and passionate. She insists that her students think broadly & get involved in class. In a word, she is outstanding!"