“My work focuses on ‘what a body can do’ and in the process, aims to challenge the conditions of ableism.”
– Dr. Sarah Reddington
Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Mount Child & Youth Study professor Dr. Sarah Reddington, first came east to pursue her physical education degree at Acadia University. Though she missed the mountains and downhill skiing, she was excited for her east coast adventures.
She recalls driving through the town of Wolfville, appreciating the small-town charm, but realizing what a change it would be from her city upbringing. Fast forward 24 years, and Sarah still resides in the Annapolis Valley – a place she is happy to call home.
A natural connection to education
For as long as Sarah can remember, she has always had an interest in education and has enjoyed working with children. “Both my parents, my dad a retired doctor and my mom a former pediatric nurse and pre-school teacher, worked closely with underserved children throughout their careers and so the education field felt like a natural space for me to be in,” she said.
After completing her undergraduate degree in education, Sarah worked as an elementary and secondary high school teacher in Nova Scotia for eleven years. During this time, she also taught at an independent school for children and youth with learning differences.
“I received specialized training in many areas to support children with disabilities and this training was invaluable and made me a better educator,” she said. Sarah expressed how she appreciated the honesty, enthusiasm and knowledge her students brought to the class each day: “Often people discount children with disabilities and do not see the level of agency and voice they possess. There is a requirement to disrupt medical ways of thinking and use an advocacy framework when working with young people.”
Studies in disability and inclusion
Sarah’s interest in the experience of young people with disabilities soon led her back to academia from the world of teaching as she pursued a Master’s Degree in Inclusion Education at Acadia. During her graduate studies, Sarah taught part-time for the Education Department at Acadia and later for the University of Prince Edward Island. This was a new chapter for her and she enjoyed the lively discussions that ensued in the undergraduate classes she taught.
Sarah’s academic journey continued full-time as she pursued a PhD in critical disability studies at the University of South Australia. The focus of her PhD research was the Nova Scotia public school experience of young men with autism. She utilized arts-based methods, including Deleuzoguattarian theory, to attend to the complexity of the young men’s experiences when navigating peer relations, educational special education practices and school spaces.
“In North America, we tend to prioritize the medical model so my work tries to shift this and focus on the wider dimensions of disability beyond their medical label and diagnosis,” she explained. “This includes giving increased emphasis to the social, cultural, political and affective dimensions of their lives, to think in more open and fluid ways.”
To support a critical disability lens, Sarah engages with post structural thinking, affect theory, post humanism, Deleuzoguattarian theory, queer theory, diffraction and new materialism to disrupt static medicalized conceptions. “My work focuses on ‘what a body can do’ and in the process, aims to challenge the conditions of ableism.”
“Art is a powerful medium for marginalized communities as not everything can be shared in written or spoken form.”
Community collaborations in art and physical activity
Sarah is currently involved in a research project with the non-profit organization Youth Art Connection. The organization has a variety of programs that work with youth to create positive change from a personal and community-wide perspective. Specifically, Sarah and her colleagues are involved in a project called ArtPreneurs, which supports artistically talented youth living in rural communities in developing business skills, networks and opportunities to turn their talents into careers. This project aligns with Sarah’s interest in using art-based methods to support underserved youth. “Art is a powerful medium for marginalized communities as not everything can be shared in written or spoken form.”
This winter, Sarah and her colleagues will be collecting data on the youth involved in the Artpreneur program by conducting interviews with participants. She then plans to do an art focus group at the end of the 10-week program where the youth’s art will be showcased at Nova Scotia art galleries.
As a professor at the Mount, Sarah is equally passionate about ensuring her students get the most out of her classes. She engages with her students through storytelling and community of inquiry methods to have them think critically about special education models and increasingly consider the wider dimensions of disability experience.
When asked what she enjoys most about being a professor, she says, “It is great to be able to collaborate with students, other researchers and with the community.” In fact, Sarah is currently working to launch a program at the Mount called PACE (Physically Active Children Excel). The PACE program will be open to children from diverse backgrounds, aged 4-7 years old, and will provide early instruction in basic motor skills and developmentally appropriate play.
“The goal is to provide a platform for participants to develop physical literacy skills and gain confidence as young movers,” she said. The program will run one morning a week at the Mount this winter and it will be facilitated by Mount faculty, staff, students and community volunteers. (If you are interested in participating in PACE, please contact Sarah at Sarah.Reddington@msvu.ca
No doubt, the Mount community will benefit greatly as Sarah continues her academic journey here.