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An ECS student making a difference at Ronald McDonald House Charities Toronto School
Since she was a young child, fourth-year University of Guelph-Humber Early Childhood Studies student Aislinn Mason knew she wanted to be a teacher. At UofGH, two of her field practicums were in schools, where she worked with children with disabilities. But when it came to her fourth-year practicum, she was looking for a different environment. After speaking with Jenni Mastroianni, Acting Manager of Career & Placement Services and Field Placement Coordinator for Early Childhood Studies, Mason chose to do her practicum at Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Toronto School.
“Jenni knew the path I wanted was to go to teachers’ college after I graduate from UofGH, and she thought it would be a good experience at RMHC Toronto School, because it’s a different environment than a regular school is, so I decided it was definitely a path I wanted to take,” she says.
Helping patients and their siblings
Ronald McDonald House Charities Toronto is a place to call home for families with seriously ill children undergoing treatment. Ronald McDonald House Charities Toronto School is a private school for patients and their siblings who are staying at Ronald McDonald House, from kindergarten to grade 8. High school students may also receive tutoring, but must be enrolled in an online home school.
At the school, Mason is paired with a staff member, and works with the students one-on-one and in groups. She helps with daily classroom routines, runs the morning circles, and participates in field trips. “At the school, I get to see both the patients’ and the siblings’ perspectives,” she says. “It’s a great experience, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity – I think it’s an amazing opportunity to experience this setting, you get the teaching side of it and the child life side of it all in one.”
Mason says that working at the school has helped her to hone her skills to meet the needs of all the children at the House. “I’ve enjoyed really getting to learn how to modify and adapt activities and lessons to meet the needs of the whole group, instead of focusing on one grade. I’ve learned to teach a lesson to someone who’s four years old, and to someone who’s 12 at the same time. It’s a really great lesson to take into my future with me.”
She says that having a school like RMHC Toronto School is critical for families who are going through a difficult time. “It’s such a warm and welcoming environment to everyone who walks through those doors, and I think the staff all work really well together to create lessons and programs to meet the needs of all the children,” she says. “A school like this is so important, and I’ve heard feedback from parents thanking them for what they do, that a sibling can continue with school while their sibling is in the hospital. It keeps some normalcy in the house. Sometimes people are there for a long period of time, and parents have to bring all their children, so having that sense of normalcy that the school provides is really awesome.”
Katie Doering, Principal of Ronald McDonald House Charities Toronto School, says that placement students like Mason are valuable members of the team, and help to create that consistency that families need during the difficult time they are facing. “Here at RMHC Toronto School, we welcome placement students to help us meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of our diverse students. We are grateful to have UofGH students, as their longer placements increase consistency for the children during an extremely difficult time in their lives. Sometimes seeing a familiar face is all it takes to brighten a child's day."
She adds that "Aislinn is a wonderful addition to our School Team! She is enthusiastic, professional, and creative! She regularly leads engaging activities inspired by the interests of our students. All of the students look forward with great anticipation to her days at our school."
Building skills for the future
Mason says when she found the ECS program at UofGH, she was impressed with ECS Program Head Dr. Nikki Martyn’s passion for the program. “When I found the ECS program I fell in love with it immediately. I remember in the open house I came to, Dr. Nikki Martyn gave a speech about the program, and I was so mesmerized by the way she was talking about it, and I was so excited about it and I hadn’t been excited about any other university programs I had toured, so I knew it was going to be good for me,” she explains. “I also liked the practicum side of it as well, that was one of the key pieces why I chose UofGH - you get both the theory and the practical experience.”
She says she chose UofGH’s ECS program because she wanted to learn about different settings for working with children. “I’ve always known I wanted to be a teacher but there are so many opportunities to work with kids in different environments and I thought maybe there was something other than teaching that I would like to do – so that’s why I chose this program, because I knew it would expose me to so many other opportunities in the field of working with children.” However, she says her field practicums cemented her choice to become a teacher. “Through all of my placements it solidified that being in schools, and teaching kids and inspiring them on a daily basis was what I really wanted to do.”
After graduating from UofGH this spring, Aislinn hopes to attend UofT’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, where she can pursue a Master’s degree or go to Teachers’ College.
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