Mary-Ann Fuduric is the Executive Director for the Learning Disabilities Association of Windsor-Essex County (LDAWE). She was good enough to take the time to participate in this interview. Read on to find out more about this interesting educator.
Doug: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. First question I always like to ask – do you remember where and when we first met?
Mary-Ann: We first met in cyberspace, Twitter specifically! I was a relatively new educator and I joined twitter to develop my own Professional Learning Network and to learn more about the trends in education. I started following you and to my delight you followed me back! It took off from there. We officially met in person a few years later at an edCamp in Tilbury.
Doug: That was an amazing day and it was so much fun to make and renew connections with folks again. Do you remember any specific takeaways for yourself from that event?
Mary-Ann: I loved the vibe and the enthusiasm in the room. It was motivating to meet so many awesome educators and to learn new things in an unconventional way.
Doug: edCamps have appeal to a certain learning style for educators. There really isn’t a specific theme. In your work with LDAWE, I’m wondering – would an edCamp targeting the goals of your organization have a place and be successful?
Mary-Ann: I think it would! If you look at the numbers, 1 in 10 people have a learning disability. Some experts argue that the number is closer to 1 in 5 people. This means that an educator has the potential of having 4 or 5 children in their classroom with a learning disability. There is so much to learn about how to teach individuals with learning disabilities including using assistive technology in the classroom and moving towards a UDL (Universal Design for Learning) model. Equally important is how to support these individuals not only through the school years but how to prep them for the world beyond school.
Doug: With your experience in the auto industry, as an engineer, and as a Mathematics teacher, you just have to be inclined towards using the “making experience” with your student clients.
Mary-Ann: All of our children’s programs are strength focussed. Meaning we don’t focus on what the students cannot do. We concentrate on what they can do and what their interests are. We have spent a lot of efforts and funds over the last year and a half examining our programs and trying to understand how to better help our student clients. Engagement is everything and naturally people are more engaged with what they know and what they like. With that engagement comes the ability to truly help whether it’s improving literacy and math skills or focussing on social skills or providing social opportunities with peers. We do try to offer opportunities for STEM activities. Based on the research, individuals with disabilities are underrepresented in STEM careers despite advances in adaptive technology. So we really try to incorporate science and technology in our programs as well as that hands on experience.
Doug: Can you give us an example?
Mary-Ann: An example is our summer camp which is created around some really cool themes. This year we ran a full Lego week after seeing a huge interest in lego during STEM week last year. We ran a fully individualized math and literacy program incorporating lego building and design. We also received an amazing grant from We Care for Kids to purchase iPads for our literacy program. This offered us an opportunity to individualize the student’s reading while still engaging them in the process. The STEM too was a huge success as the students used robots to learn to program. This required collaborating with peers and using their literacy and math skills in the process. Focusing on interest and individual strengths allows for a better experience for the students and staff.
Doug: Most of the readers of this blog post will be educators. What services do you provide your student clients beyond that offered by local school districts?
Mary-Ann: We provide a variety of services that span the school years and beyond. For our children’s programs we offer individualized math and literacy tutoring in small groups. We also have a popular social skills program which focuses on foundational social skills, dealing with emotions and friendship. This fall we have added a class in Leamington so we are very excited about that. In January, we are piloting a LEGO-Based Social Skills class which is a collaborative play group in which children work together to build LEGO models. The goal of this program is to provide the opportunity for social communication, social support, problem-solving and conflict resolution skills.
For our youth we offer Brainology which is a program that focuses on understanding the brain and how it works. The students are taught how to apply this knowledge in the classroom and develop strategies for tackling learning challenges. Having a growth mindset and being mindful are important elements for everyone. For students transitioning to middle school and high school we offer SOAR which offers tools for success (strategies, support, and accommodation), and making choices for the future. Moving to high school and high school life is a huge transition and many students will struggle with this change. Our goal is to help students with learning disabilities and ADHD transition smoothly. We also offer a youth group that provides an opportunity for socializing in a positive environment. We have outings and activities that the participants choose collaboratively.
For individuals 16 and older we provide employment supports. Our employment counsellors work with the individual on resume and interview prep, job search and filling out application forms. Once employment is achieved our dedicated counsellors provide job coaching, help explain accommodation needs to the employer if needed, help fill out forms, and have meetings with the employer if needed. They are there for the client and will support them.
We also offer a transition program for individuals that are transitioning from high school to employment, college or university pathways.
One-to-One assistive technology is available to anyone and is individualized to what the clients needs are. We sometimes have parents who come in and want to learn more about the technology so they can help their children. Sometimes we have students who need a bit more practice using their assigned school technology.
Doug: You have an impressive list of supporters. http://www.ldawe.ca/our-supporters.php Are there still areas in Windsor/Essex County that could use your services?
Mary-Ann: The needs are huge in the community and we are always working to secure funds to expand our services and to expand to more locations. This year we are going out to Leamington for our social skills program and I am sure we could offer many more programs out there. The issue comes down to funding and we are always trying to stretch our dollar while providing great services and programs.
Doug: Since you’ve worked both in schools and with LDAWE, you have insights to both systems. What services do you provide that schools are unable to?
Mary-Ann: I like to think that we complement the services that are provided in school. We offer students the opportunity to receive additional individualized learning opportunities. What we can offer is a non-judgemental learning environment. All of our participants are diagnosed with a learning disability and ADHD. We find students are much better able to understand their learning differences and connect with peers in a safe learning environment.
We are staffed by OCTs and support staff who not only have their professional credentials but they understand the unique challenges that individuals with learning disabilities and ADHD have. They are also amazing at knowing how to help these clients. We don’t want to be seen as a continuation of school but rather as a compliment. We want our students to be motivated and excited to attend our programs after a long school day. We are also there to support the parents of these students who are navigating the world of IPRC’s and IEP’s. They worry about what the future holds for their kids and through 1:1 conversations and through participation in our PACE Parent’s program we try to help them too. I am always available for any parent who wants to come in to talk or wants to speak on the phone.
Doug: Supporting parents is so important and may not be the first thing that comes to people’s minds. Thanks for mentioning it.
Is funding for your student clients sufficient?
Mary-Ann: It’s non-profit – There is never enough money! There is so much need in our community and only so much that we can do. We could provide four social skills classes at a time and it would not be enough. We are very fortunate that our community is so giving – we receive many donations from so many different organizations. We are so thankful for their support because it’s what allows us to help these individuals. It’s what helps us grow.
Doug: Your Twitter handle is a regular on my “FollowFriday” lists. That’s an indication that you’re very active in your use of the service. Do you have a specific personal use for social media?
Mary-Ann: I use social media to feed my passion which is special education. I am also passionate about all things related to education especially math and educational technology. I love everything non-profit and am always trying to learn how to be a better leader not only for my staff but for the organization and the people we serve. It’s my platform to learn and to engage with like minded individuals. It’s an an opportunity to learn from the best of the best. I hope that by sharing my knowledge and experiences I can help others learn. It’s also a platform for me to engage in conversations about causes I believe strongly about including our community and the challenges we face as a society.
Doug: If someone asked you who they should follow on Twitter, who would you recommend?
Mary-Ann: Wow – my list is so long and diverse. For all things non-profit Joan Garry(@joangarry) is a must. For assistive technology and UDL definitely Karen Janowski (@KarenJan) and Mike Marotta (@mmatp). For learning disabilities the whole #LDchat crew with @UnderstoodOrg and Amanda Morin (@AmandaMorin) at the helm.
Doug: Do you promote social media internally at LDAWE and with students?
Mary-Ann: We do with the staff and right now I am playing around with using Workplace by Facebook. For students whose parents have given their permission we feature good news stories and showcase their great work. We find a lot of our clients are engaged through social media. They love when we post about the behind the scenes work we do which really makes me proud. We have an incredible group of staff who are passionate about our organization and about helping individuals with learning disabilities and ADHD. I find myself incredibly lucky to be leading them.
Doug: On your website, there’s a very comprehensive and useful list of resources. http://www.ldawe.ca/resources.php I think that this is a very insightful list for all educators.
Mary-Ann: Thank you. We are working on revamping our website this year so stay tuned for an improved resource list.
Doug: Thank you so much for taking the time for the interview. I appreciate it.
You can follow Mary-Ann on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/MaryannFuduric
She is a rich supporter and retweeter of stories dealing with Learning Disabilities.