A school sign seen on Aug. 30, 2022. The Yukon’s education department is taking a different approach to inclusive and special education in the territory. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

A school sign seen on Aug. 30, 2022. The Yukon’s education department is taking a different approach to inclusive and special education in the territory. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

New education model launching in four Yukon schools: YG

Program comes in response to 2019 auditor general’s report

The Yukon’s Education minister says her department is “reimagining inclusive and special education” by bringing about a different education model across the territory.

“This huge paradigm shift has the potential to improve the lives of children and families across the Yukon,” Education Minister Jeanie McLean said.

In a Sept. 13 news conference, McLean announced the territory is building on a pilot project introduced to Takhini Elementary School in 2019 and Selkirk Elementary School in 2021. This year, the “ready-to-learn schools” program will be brought into four more schools: St. Elias Community School in Haines Junction, Nelnah Bessie John School in Beaver Creek, Grey Mountain Primary School and Jack Hulland Elementary School in Whitehorse.

President Ted Hupé of the Yukon Association of Educational Professionals has been critical of the department’s response to inclusive and special education, but he’s “proud and happy” of the work that’s underway on this front.

Hupé credits Takhini Elementary School for getting the ball rolling and passing it to other schools.

“It’s a good thing, because it focuses on kids’ self-regulation and trying to build more resilient, more successful kids in school,” he said.

A key part of this initiative involves teacher and administrator training in the neurosequential model in education, which is based on more than two decades of research by brain development and trauma expert Dr. Bruce Perry of the Neurosequential Network.

“We are the first jurisdiction in Canada to look at implementing this model in all of our schools as a proactive way to support the overall wellbeing and social development of Yukon learners,” McLean said.

The change in approach comes in response to the 2019 auditor general’s report on education in the Yukon and is a main element of the territory’s two-year COVID-19 pandemic recovery plan, which McLean said outlines how educators can support students after a difficult two years.

The audit found that the department did not do enough to understand and address long-standing gaps in student outcomes, did not know whether its approach to inclusive education was working and did not fully meet its Yukon First Nations culture and language responsibilities.

“Educators in the Yukon tell us they need more training in creative, inclusive classrooms and building connections with their students,” McLean said.

“We have heard them. With this training, educators can look at their students and their own careers with a new lens.”

The Neurosequential Network’s website describes the model as a “developmentally sensitive, neurobiology-informed approach to clinical problem solving” that does not rely on any specific therapeutic technique or intervention. When applied to education, it seeks to help educators understand student behavior and performance in an unconventional way.

“School administrators at Takhini tell us that this developmentally responsive approach has completely changed the culture at the school,” McLean said.

“Teachers there are meeting students where they’re at instead of where they expect them to be.”

In turn, McLean said, the number of office referrals — which she defined as when a teacher needs to involve school administrators to deal with issues one-on-one — has dropped to 10 from 70 or 80 referrals per month.

Jan Ference, considered a mentor within the network, described how the training happens for the whole school, as well as intensive work with a smaller group of teachers.

“The intensive work really builds a deeper understanding of the concepts that we would have given to the whole school, and so over time, there’s a small group of teachers that have this intensive reflective process with us,” she said.

“We really get in deep about their class and about their students and how to kind of apply this lens in real life.”

All staff including administrators in each participating school will take part in the baseline training, then two to four teachers will do “deeper reflective” sessions, the department said by email on Sept. 15.

It requires a full day of professional development for the baseline training. Additionally, all classroom teachers directly engaged in the program must undergo a series of four to five two-hour long reflective sessions.

Perry’s most recently published book is co-authored by Oprah Winfrey. The department of Education has bought eight copies of the book titled “What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing” as a general resource, but it is not required reading.

The cost to carry out the program in up to eight schools this year is about $212,000, according to the department.

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com