As a 13-year-old growing up outside Edmonton, Jody Langlois was involved in a horse jumping organization that regularly hosted a group of youngsters with severe developmental disabilities.
The youngsters, who were affected by cognitive, physical and emotional disorders, visited every Wednesday evening. For whatever reason, Langlois took a particular interest in a six-year-old boy named Kenny.
“He was the cutest little guy, but he had significant social-emotional issues” that caused his behaviour to swing wildly, from placid to “severe emotional outbursts,” Langlois said.
Over several sessions in which she helped the youngster bond with the horses, Kenny’s behaviour began to moderate. That’s when Langlois had a realization that could almost be described as an epiphany.
“I was 13 and I remember thinking on the last day of those lessons, ‘This is what I want to do with my life,’” Langlois, the Sea to Sky School District’s new assistant superintendent, said during a chat in her Squamish office last Thursday (Aug. 29).
“I had no idea how lucky I was at that point that I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
Over the succeeding decades Langlois pursued her training as an educator dealing with students with special needs. She eventually earned graduate and post-graduate degrees in special education, has now spent nearly three decades working in a variety of educational roles, and has even served as a sessional lecturer in the Department of Counselling Psychology and Special Education at UBC.
A mother of three adult children and a long-time West Vancouver resident, Langlois wasn’t looking for a new job last spring when the assistant superintendent’s job in the Sea to Sky district came open. She had, after all, just taken on the title of director of instruction with the Vancouver School District the previous fall.
Her superiors at the Vancouver district, though, immediately understood her desire to apply for the job being vacated by the popular and highly regarded Ian Kent, who is retiring Oct. 1. The Sea to Sky district has built a reputation in the education community as an innovator, and Langlois jumped at the chance to be part of it.
District 48’s new focus on student-centered, cooperative and project-based learning dovetails nicely with Langlois’ training in special education, she said. That’s because more and more, educators are learning that each student’s needs are unique and that a more adaptable, student-centered learning environment is more likely to help students excel than the old, teacher-centred model.
“The way education is heading today is really blurring the lines of special ed. and regular education — hoorah, yeah!” Langlois said.
“It all ties together as good instruction. The thing that really thrills me is that it’s about making learning meaningful for all students, whether they’re so-called special needs or whether they’re more typical. The principles are the same.”
Langlois said she’s excited to work in such an innovative environment to help meet the needs of the approximately 4,200 students in the district.
“I can tell you, Lisa [McCullough] has got this district on the map,” Langlois said of the district’s superintendent, now in her third year on the job. “When I first got the job, my colleagues in Vancouver said, ‘Sea to Sky — they’re doing some great things there.’ And what I’ve found so far is that it just has a positive and cohesive feel to it.
“What I absolutely love is being able to be part of that team.”