Answered by Martin Smit, Principal, Sagonaska Demonstration School

Secondary Schools in Ontario offer different pathways for students. An individual’s pathway depends on their interests, learning skills and academic ability. Every student with a learning disability has a unique learning profile (strengths and needs) so the pathway must be chosen thoughtfully to ensure a positive school experience. Typical pathways include Academic (usually destined for University), Applied (usually destined for College), and Locally Developed (leading to the workplace). Any student, but especially one with a learning disability, needs to begin by understanding their own academic potential and academic interests before choosing a pathway.  For example, a student may have strong intelligence but poor learning skills and a low interest in school, which makes the Academic Pathway a difficult choice.

It is important for the student to consider what their end goal is for education, as each pathway carries with it different expectations for workload. If they are considering attending University, then certain Academic courses will be necessary. Students with LDs have the academic potential and if their goal is to be “university bound” they should have no difficulty in the Academic Pathway given the appropriate supports and accommodations. These may include technology, extra time and/or support of the Resource Staff, but no student needs to take all of their courses in one pathway. For example, a student may require science and math at the academic level to enter a specific University program, but English may be taken at an applied level, which would ease the amount of work required. It is important for students and parents to seek the support of a Guidance Counselor and the Student Success Team to help best understand the options available.

Another key to success is ensuring that the teacher has a clear understanding of a student’s profile. This happens best when the student understands their own profile and has the confidence to share this information and advocate for appropriate supports. If you have questions about Secondary School Pathways and how a student with a learning disability can be supported to be successful, meet with the Student Success team. The Student Success Team will work to ensure that the students’ needs are met and accommodations on the IEP are properly implemented (e.g. use of a scribe, use of speech to text/text to speech, extra time for assessments etc.). Without the Student Success Team being involved, it is possible that a student will be directed toward an inappropriate pathway. This could be based on misunderstandings of the student’s learning disability or supports appropriate to their specific learning disability, which can be frustrating for everyone.

You and your child should also know your child’s profile and the supports outlined in the IEP. This will ensure that both you and your child are able to advocate for your child’s needs and accommodations. This will also help keep everyone informed and accountable to ensure your child is on track for a successful secondary school experience in the appropriate pathway. With the combined efforts of your child, the Student Success Team, and yourself, students with LDs are capable of following any pathway on their journey to postsecondary education. There is no one size fits all for students with learning disabilities!

In summary:

  • A pathway for each student must be chosen prior to the start of high school. The pathway can include academic, applied or locally developed courses.
  • Students with LDs have unique learning profiles, and their skill sets and academic interests should be considered when choosing a pathway.
  • Wherever possible, start with the end goals of the student in mind to be sure that they choose the correct course before they start high school.
  • Students do not need to take all of their courses from the same pathway.
  • The Student Success Team at your child’s school can be a valuable resource when you want to be sure that teachers understand your child’s learning profile.
  • Resource staff and Guidance Counselors may also be valuable staff resources, depending on your needs.
  • Ensure that you and your child know about your child’s learning profile and goals so that you can advocate for the best pathway for your child!

Martin has been an educator for 26 years.  He has worked with the Greater Essex County DSB, and the Hastings and Prince Edward DSB as a teacher, administrator and the board’s School Effectiveness Lead.  Martin  is currently Principal of Sagonaska Demonstration School.  As one of three Provincial Demonstration Schools for Students with severe Learning Disabilities (LD), Sagonaska provides specialized educational instruction and residential services and programs for students, as well as teacher training and consultation services to school boards who have similar services and programs serving the needs of LD students in their local community.