Having a “transformational impact in her school community” is just one of the many positives used to describe Jennifer Smith.
With a passion for helping students reach their full potential in learning and development, the Special Education Resource Teacher from St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic Elementary School is the newest recipient of the Domenica Leone Award.
Established last year, the award honours late Assistant Superintendent Domenica Leone, a longtime Catholic educator before losing her battle to cancer in April 2018.
“Domenica was known for her commitment to education over 35 years, working as an exemplary classroom teacher, special education resource teacher, Vice-Principal and Assistant Superintendent,” said Superintendent of Education Corrado Ciapanna.
The award is presented yearly to recognize the hard work and dedication of special education staff of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board to continue to provide care and compassion to serve exceptional children.
For Smith, living up to this model has been described as a “calling” by nominators Principal Jenny Frappa, Teacher Lucy Hunt and Board Certified Behavioural Analyst Leilani Llacuna.
“Jennifer working as a special education resource teacher is a blessing in helping our school team reach each child’s true potential,” as told in a nomination letter.
“She identifies the needs of assigned students through formal and informal assessments and very quickly creates creative and innovative activities for them to access for their daily improvement.”
Using individualized learning plans, Smith assesses needs early on and adjusts as learning progresses, not only benefiting the students, but their families, as well.
“She builds up, motivates and acknowledges students on a daily basis to push themselves just a little bit further.”
“Her support of the students’ learning goes beyond the school building as she encourages all of them to participate in experiential learning experiences and activities,” said Frappa. “An example of this was our system cross country meet, where she was the buddy supporting the student with walking and using a special wheelchair to finish the race with her peers.”
Other extracurricular activities Smith supports her students to join include the Health Action Team and Eco Team.
Her expertise was also fundamental for a transition to kindergarten program, offered through the HWCDSB, noted Frappa.
“The transition to kindergarten, especially for students with special education needs, can be challenging. Jennifer was integral in this program’s success as she provided these students with exposure to school experiences, supported learning and participation to generalize to the inclusive classroom setting, and supported individual skill development of these students.”
“She is more than a teacher. She has become a role model for other teachers and aspiring special education resource teachers on how to be open to learning new ways of approaching education, to build on success working with students to strengthen new skills, and to inspire others to do the same.”