Inclusive Post-Secondary Education: Success at Red Deer Polytechnic

September 27, 2022

Starting in 2006 with the inclusion of three students with developmental disabilities, Red Deer Polytechnic’s (RDP) Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Initiative has now grown to triple the number of students who are included and has taken the lead as one of the first institutions in the province to include a student with developmental disabilities in a trades program.

Students with developmental disabilities learning with support of the initiative at RDP audit their course of studies in pursuit of individualized learning goals. Students have been included in programs such as Visual Arts, Bachelor of Arts Psychology, Bachelor of Science Kinesiology, Early Learning and Child Care and many more. In 2021, RDP also became the first post-secondary institution in the province to include a student with developmental disabilities in a trades program when Elijah Sigurdson began attending the Cook Apprenticeship Program.

Elijah Sigurdson – Aspiring Line Cook (Cook Apprenticeship Program)

Elijah is on the right, and is standing with his cooking instructor who is to the left of them. They are holding a tray of food together, and are wearing chef's uniforms including white aprons and hats. Both are wearing masks. Cooking has always been a passion for Elijah and since graduating high school in 2015, the Sylvan Lake resident has worked in the kitchens of several local restaurants. He says he’s always dreamed of going to college and is pleased to be pursuing his passion in RDP’s Cook Apprenticeship Program.

“Start with something that you’re interested in,” says Elijah, noting that he seems to be working harder at his studies given his interests. He says his favourite part of school has been learning and trying out new cooking techniques, many of which he has already taken to his part-time job in the kitchen at Earl’s. Now in his second year at RDP, Elijah goes to the on-campus gym regularly and says he has made several friends at college, including a fellow Earl’s colleague.

Given that it would be the first time the school would include a student in a trades program, faculty and staff wanted to ensure that it would be a good fit for all and met with Elijah before intake.

“[Elijah] indicated that he wanted learn more about the industry and to provide more opportunities to expand his duties at his work,” says David Pye, Associate Dean in School of Education and Trades and previous Associate Dean of Cook Apprenticeship Program. “We wanted to make sure that it would be a well-rounded experience for him, that would allow him to grow and develop and be successful.”

“I think we all left that meeting feeling like he would be a good fit for the program,” say Garnett Schoettler, Cook Apprentice Instructor at RDP. Garnett says that Elijah’s drive to learn along with the support provided by Inclusion Alberta’s educational facilitator and the natural support from class peers fostered an environment of success for Elijah’s first year.

 “He’s always excited when he comes to the kitchen, he loves to learn,” Garnett with a smile.

David says that from an Associate Dean perspective, he sees the possibility of more students with developmental disabilities being able to learn in other trades programs in the future.

“It’s really about having a clear expectation of what we are trying to accomplish, both from our educational point of view, what the person is going to be doing in the industry, and what the individual’s desire is at the end of it,” says David. “When you look at creating those expectations, it allows us to set a student up for success.”

Elijah says that one of his specialties he makes at home is baked salmon with asparagus, and one of his favourite new takeaways from school has been learning to make a Reuben sandwich. When he’s finished school, he hopes to become a line cook.

Brendan Amendt – Sports Enthusiast (Kinesiology)

12 hockey players stand on the ice together, holding sticks and facing the camera. In 2018, Red Deer Polytechnic was the recipient of Inclusion Alberta’s Community Inclusion Award for their outstanding work in ensuring students with developmental disabilities had a rich post-secondary experience. Students supported by the initiative have moved from across the province to live in dorms on campus, have been part of the Student Ambassadors Program, and have the opportunity to experience all the extra-curriculars that the campus has to offer such as the state-of-the-art, newly built Gary Harris Rec Centre.

A well-known figure around the Rec Centre is Red Deer resident Brendan Amendt, who recently completed his studies in Kinesiology as part of the Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Initiative. An avid sports fan, Brendan was included in general kinesiology classes along with basketball, badminton and hockey classes. He says he loved his time at RDP and made some great connections with classmates and instructors. One of his favourite classes, hockey, had a challenging start as his instructor and educational facilitators worked to find a way to include Brendan, who doesn’t skate, in a meaningful way.

Kelly Coulter, Instructor at the Donald School of Business, Head Coach for the Queens Hockey Team and Brendan’s hockey class instructor, says the group came up with a solution to get Brendan on the ice with his classmates participating in modified drills, blowing the whistle and dropping pucks.

“We actually put Brendan on a chair on the ice with a metal bottom and traction spikes on his shoes so he could slide around the ice,” says Kelly, noting that natural peer support was also strong in the class. He says that Brendan’s classmates were encouraging and supportive and got very creative in how they would ensure Brendan had a meaningful role in the class.

Brendan is in the middle, surrounded by two members of faculty. They are on stage at a convocation ceremony. Brendan is holding is certificate, wearing a grad cap and gown. The two faculty members on either side are wearing black ceremonial gowns and caps. Kelly says that having Brendan as a student also taught him a few teaching style adjustments that helped him communicate better with all students moving forward.

“As a teacher, you’re always writing on the board with your back to the students,” says Kelly. “Having Brendan in the class made me realize that I have to be more cognizant of having all students see me more while I’m speaking, making better eye contact to better engage them.”

Having convocated in June 2022, Brendan spent the summer gaining valuable work experience at the local YMCA, and plans on returning to the RDP campus with friends to watch hockey, volleyball and basketball games. He hopes to find employment putting his new skills to work in the recreation field.

Learn more about the possibilities of Inclusive Post-Secondary Education and the initiative at Red Deer Polytechnic.