On October 28, Jennifer Whytock will graduate with a Masters degree in Education, focusing on supporting learners with diverse needs and exceptionalities. Born in Calgary Alberta, Jennifer moved to Dartmouth Nova Scotia at a young age, and has called it home ever since.
Jennifer knew teaching was going to be her profession from a very young age – it had become a family trait. “I looked up to my mom [Cheryl] as a great example of a teacher who put students and their needs first,” she says. “I volunteered in her classroom every chance I got – she taught me how to earn the trust of students, and I’ll be forever grateful for that gift.”
After graduating from Acadia University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and literature, Jennifer had applied – and been accepted – to enroll in a Bachelor of Education program. But before she could accept and confirm her attendance, Jennifer came down with a bug – of the traveling kind. She decided to defer to take a once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity.
Jennifer recounts many activities in her travels to Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Germany and Austria, among others (such as cave excursions, shown at right), including skydiving and zucchini picking. “A group of friends decided to go to Australia for three months on an adventure, and three months turned into almost five years,” she recalls. “It was a life-changing experience. I went as one person and came home as somebody different.”
When asked what brought her home, Jennifer says, “Education brought me back. I wanted to finish what I wanted to become – and the time felt right.” Jennifer completed the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and returned home to become a substitute teacher with the Halifax Regional School Board. While teaching in a Learning Centre at St. Joseph’s A. McKay in Halifax’s North End, Jennifer says she was looking for a program that would focus on her area of teaching. She found that program at the Mount.
“It was clear to me what the Mount’s programs were about,” she says. “The Mount is creating teachers who have a vested interest in their students. I chose the Mount’s program because I felt the faculty had the best interests of my students at heart.”
When asked to describe her area of specialty as it relates to her students, Jennifer provides absolute clarity on who she’s supporting. “My students have diverse needs and exceptionalities – in other words, they fall outside of what we would expect from the norm. Something – whether it be learning, social, economic or other, is not actualized in their life, and they need extra support to be as successful as they can be in school. So many children need to be recognized and celebrated for who they are.
Jennifer’s passion for her students is evident, and she believes the Mount has played a role in helping her in the classroom. “This program has enabled me to be the person who can support the classroom teacher while also supporting the student. I’ve learned to think outside the box. Where some see troublesome behavior, I see possible reasons and ways to foster student success.” Jennifer notes her goal is to have, “Happy, healthy students in school.”
Why cohorts are synonymous with community, family
Jennifer’s training is proving invaluable in the field, but she also leaves the Mount with an unexpected network of resources. “The biggest thing I gained from the Mount is a true community of educators who are invested in the best interest of children with special needs. It’s often difficult to connect with others who are teaching in this area due to small numbers in each school. I now have a community of professionals with different backgrounds who I can reach out to with questions.”
Jennifer notes her small cohort of 16 students became like family over the past two years. “Our professional connectivity became social as well,” she says. “There have been five babies born to students in our cohort – it’s been an incredibly bonding experience.”
From the classroom to real life – a story of student success
And success for Jennifer is something that, despite taking time, is worth every ounce of effort. “I have one particular student who has had significant challenges in almost every area that is considered an activity of daily living. A year ago he couldn’t leave my Learning Centre. Today, this little boy goes to class with the rest of his grade two classmates, sits at his desk and does his work. He’s happy, calm and proud. Students like him are the reason I wake up every day at 5:30a.m. looking forward to the day ahead.”
From each class, Jennifer says she was able to take ‘bits’ of information that she now uses in her daily profession. “The biggest aspect is assessment. I look at where the students are in their learning, what they’re ready for, and how I can see the world through their eyes. Continuous reflective assessment allows each student to move forward in his or her own way, in his or her own time.”
An undeniable passion for the outdoors
While Jennifer describes her in-classroom experience, it becomes evident why she’s found her way to these students – she has a spirit and an attitude that asks ‘Why not?’ which finds inspiration in the outdoors. “I play Frisbee with the Halifax Sport and Social Club, I hike, rock-climb, bike – if it happens where there are trees and mud, count me in,” she says. “I’m a person with a spirit for taking on new challenges. I hope the outdoors that lives in me helps my students embrace new challenges, trying things they’ve never tried before.”
Jennifer is certainly an example for other educators in the field, creating unique learning experiences for students through technology that caters to specific learning outcomes, and engaging students in curriculum. Jennifer is a committed teacher, and those who know her describe her teaching efficacy as being tied intimately and intricately to the students she teaches and loves.