Kara Harkness listening to facilitator Sheila Burns.

Kara Harkness listening to facilitator Sheila Burns.

By Jennifer Ashawasegai
HENVEY INLET FIRST NATION – Britt Public School teacher Wanda McQuabbie says she’s learned some valuable tools to help students from a two-day Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder workshop.

“I’m going to have to change my classroom around and put up blue curtains,” says McQuabbie.

The workshop entitled “FASD: Building Capacity in the Classroom” was held at Britt Public School May 5-6. Britt School was the first school in the Lake Huron district to tackle the issue of FASD.

Anishinabemowin teacher Mrs. McQuabbie wants to change her classroom to better accommodate the children who display symptoms of FASD. Her classroom is fascinating to look at and is brightly decorated like most classrooms are.

Pictures of Anishinabek in various regalia and traditional dress line the top of the walls and large placards with language instruction also hang prominently throughout the room. Blue curtains drawn across the walls of the room is one way to help children who display the symptoms of FASD focus better.

The workshop was hosted by Henvey Inlet First Nation, Union of Ontario Indians FASD Lake Huron worker Laura Liberty and the Near North District School Board. Five community members from HIFN, seven Britt Public School teachers along with the principal and vice-principal participated in the workshop facilitated by Sheila Burns.

McQuabbie is also a member of Henvey Inlet First Nation and she was very relieved to receive the special training and learn more about what she can do to help children.

“I’m so happy to have these tools and this understanding to help the children learn,” says McQuabbie.

The training workshop was the brainchild of Kara Harkness, the Community Health Educator for Henvey Inlet First Nation. She had attended similar training geared toward the justice system and thought something like that was needed on a local level in the education sector.

“There were issues in the school that were not being addressed appropriately because we weren’t looking at them through the right lens,” says Harkness.

The issue was a little bit daunting to bring up because the subject is still somewhat taboo, Harkness adds, “it was a little bit hard because it’s such a sensitive subject to tackle.”

FASD is a neurodevelopmental disability and is not an issue that occurs in just First Nations. Facilitator Sheila Burns says, “I’m from Bancroft, it’s there, it also happens in affluent communities, because mothers there, drink too.”

One of the things about the workshop that struck Britt Public School Vice-principal Mark Fleming was that FASD is a neurological disorder and FASD has many connotations of finger pointing, blame and shame.

Fleming was impressed with the workshop and said it was important.

“All students will have challenges and the better equipped the school boards are, we can increase results for our students,” says Fleming.

Harkness doesn’t want to just continue the work on the local level, she would like to see it across the region and ensure all schools within the school board receive the training.

“I want see accommodation everywhere, we’ll be looking into extensive training for staff, and we have the support from our Chief and Council to take on the school board,” she says.