In June, Ellen Birch, an educational assistant (EA) for the Lloydminster Public School Division (LPSD), was named the Saskatchewan Association of Community Living’s Inclusion Educator of the Year.
“I was very surprised,” said Birch. “Surprised but honoured.”
As an EA, Birch works with special needs students across the LPSD. However, it was a partnership with one particular student, Brodie Patterson, that led to her receiving the honour.
“I was at E.S. Laird (Middle) School for a year with Brodie and then I moved over to the LCHS,” said Birch. “Once Brodie had graduated in Grade 12, then I helped him transition into the workforce.”
Brodie, 21, has Down syndrome, but is high-functioning. He’s been working at Water World for the last two and half years. For the last seven years, though, he’s been working with Birch, who has been pushing all the right buttons inside and outside of the classroom, says his mother.
“So very often, people with disabilities are grouped: ‘You have a disability, therefore, you probably don’t like to do that and you will for sure like to do that,’” said Tracy Patterson, who nominated Birch for the award. “Ellen isn’t like that. Ellen really sees Brodie for who he is and the abilities that he can have and does have.
“Brodie was in Shakespeare, he took Shakespeare in English 30 just like everybody else. She sat there and made it so that he understood as well as anyone ever understands Shakespeare,” Patterson said with a crack.
Brodie took all of the regular classes throughout high school. He graduated from LCHS in 2012, but continued to attend the school on a part-time basis, which certain special needs students are entitled to do until the age of 21, Brodie’s current age. That means going forward, Birch will no longer serve as Brodie’s EA.
“Ellen is not going to be working with him in the school division. Will Ellen be a part of our life? Absolutely,” an emotional Patterson said.
“She has absolutely touched our hearts. She’s just done so much for Brodie. Ellen is family now and she will continue to have weekends and things like that where they can go and hang out.”
Beyond the classroom, Birch regularly accompanied Brodie to recreational events like the Try-A-Trade and the heavy oil show. In fact, Birch says that it’s often Brodie who determines where they go.
“I will take him for lunch and then I’ll say, ‘Brodie, what would you like to do this afternoon?’ So he has to decide where he would like to go. It could be to The Brick, shopping for furniture.”
One thing they won’t be shopping for, however, is hardware. With the Inclusion Educator of the Year award, Birch has that covered.