Author: Dr. Allyson Harrison, Robin Schock, Marie McCarron and Virginia Dafoe

“Kindergarten was great but it was all uphill from there!”

Virginia Dafoe, On-Line to Success graduate.

Virginia Dafoe is in her final year of the Concurrent Education Program at Queen’s University in Kingston. She wants to be a teacher so she can positively impact students with learning disabilities like herself.  Teachers in elementary school made learning a difficult process for her and her self confidence suffered as a result. Virginia’s experience is very common for students with learning disabilites (LD)  who often feel deterred from following their dreams for post-secondary education.  Although by definition, students with LD have average to above average intelligence; they are often made to feel stupid and lazy when they learn differently.

Virginia has overcome some of the obstacles she has faced throughout her early school life and attributes her success to family support and a program she took in her Grade 12 year . The On-Line to Success Program, targets students in grades 11 and 12 with learning disabilities who are planning to attend college or university. It is a 10 week transition course that incorporates research from the Learning Opportunities Task Force (LOTF)  and delivers the content in both face-to face and on-line components.   Students are placed in groups of 10 and are assisted by moderators (teacher candidates) who have on-line office hours, and can be paged and e-mailed when students need assistance.

On opening day, Virginia met other students from her high school that she didn’t know had LD.  She was introduced to the on-line program, met students with LD’s who were successful in post-secondary, met with a learning strategist who helped her understand her own unique learning profile, participated in group discussions, and socialized with her peers.  This helped her combat the feelings of isolation and embarrassment.  Virginia and the rest of the students then went back to school and home to begin the on-line portion of the program.  She learned  how the brain works, study strategies, how to find resources in post-secondary and began to share with other students in discussion forums. Virginia explained that OLTS was her first online course and she found it a lot of fun. After opening day she was able to engage in online conversations with fellow group members and work with her moderator in a more satisfying relationship. Virginia commented that she really liked the course: “it gave you freedom but you also had to be really disciplined, there was nobody there to tell you to get it done.”   Meanwhile, Virginia had a full semester and was involved in a school play while taking OLTS. She mentioned the benefit of the new self knowledge she gained outweighed the course workload.

At the conclusion of the ten weeks, Virginia did a visual presentation of what she learned about herself during the course. As an OLTS graduate, she was offered the opportunity to have an updated, comprehensive  -psycho educational assessment. The assessment assists students to clearly identify how their brain processes information and helps them to articulate the accommodations they will require at post-secondary.

Virginia found the feedback session where the Psychologist explained to her the results of the testing, most beneficial. Virginia discovered that she excels in reasoning and understanding concepts and that her struggle was with phonological processing of words and written expression. Virginia has used OLTS strategies throughout her degree at Queen’s. She learned more about time management and her rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Knowing her rights has given her the ability to speak directly and respectfully to professors and seek assistance from the Disability Services Office. Their assistance has been invaluable to her education so far.

In 2007/08, OLTS was offered to over 130 students from South-Eastern Ontario. Virginia’s experience is echoed by many OLTS graduates and attests to the benefit of this valuable program. Ongoing survey data of OLTS graduates, now attending university or college further demonstrates the necessity for this program. The surveys showed that students’ knowledge of their LD and the services provided in post-secondary increased significantly. When asked how university would have been different for her without the benefit of the OLTS program, Virginia said she would have been lost in terms of knowing the rights that she has and knowing where to go for the services she required. In fact she is still discovering accommodations that are available to her. “It is so awesome at university when you meet someone else with an LD to know you are not alone. You are not the only one that has to go to the teacher.” The future is bright for Virginia and most certainly a better outcome than she expected from her elementary and high school experiences.

Dr. Allyson Harrison, Director of Regional Assessment & Resource Center

Robin Schock, Assistant Coordinator Transitions Programs

Marie McCarron, Coordinator Transitions Programs

For more information please contact:

Robin Schock

Assistant Coordinator Transitions Programs

Regional Assessment & Resource Center

186 Barrie St.

Kingston, Ont.

K7L 3N6

613-533-6000 ext. 75220

More information is also available on the ATRC website.

1 Learning Disabilities refer to a number of disorders which may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average to above average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning. As such, learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual deficiency. (Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, 2002, p. 1)

2 The LOTF was commissioned by the Ontario government to determine the experiences for students transitioning from secondary education to post-secondary education, to determine what was needed for successful transition, to implement a transition program, to determine the outcome of the transition program, and to make recommendations for successful transition.  For a more detailed description, please see the ATRC website or contact the author.