Sister Monica Whalen's career in helping vulnerable and at-risk students
BY KRISTA JOHNSTON
Building student confidence and preserving Catholic education are top priorities for Sister Monica Whalen
Sister Monica Whalen has spent her career as an educator helping vulnerable and at-risk youth to reach their highest academic potential.
Since joining the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario 22 years ago, she has spent the majority of her time working directly with children coping with emotional and behavioural challenges, developmental disabilities and learning disabilities as both an educational assistant and student support worker.
Having spent time in both elementary and high schools in Carleton Place, Kemptville, Almonte, Perth, Smiths Falls, Westport and back to Carleton Place now working at St. Mary’s School, Sister Monica has seen a great deal of change within the school system, including the use of various new technologies (smart boards rather than blackboards), the implementation of prevention programs (to help children build empathy, overcome grief and self-regulation) and new protocols for upholding school safety in the face of things like student abuse, threats and lockdowns.
“There is a lot of focus now too on mental health within the schools,” Sister Monica explained, adding that she is involved in a board-wide resiliency program, which surveys the student population to help identify at-risk youth. The schools are then charged with building their own mental-health teams to try and provide helpful interventions for their students.
“The principal, along with the mental health team, are encouraged to draft an annual profile and program to meet those students who have the highest needs,” she explained. “For instance, if we know they are feeling isolated, we try to think of ways to connect that student with the school community to provide a sense of belonging.”
In her current role as an educational assistant in the Multiple Exceptionality Program at St. Mary’s, Sister Monica is working alongside a group of sixteen Grade 4 to 6 students (five of which have autism) with subjects like reading, language and math in the morning. She then works with five Grade 6 students in the afternoon who need extra assistance with their regular classes, like French, which is a subject she admits, she may never get to master.
“I have never taken French in my life,” she said with a laugh. “I just couldn’t believe I was sitting in French class helping these high-needs students. But the teacher and the kids have been delightful,” she added. “My career has never been boring.”
Together in Faith movement working to preserve Catholic education
Sister Monica is officially eligible to retire in January of 2018 but says she will finish out the school year in Carleton Place. She says she will continue to volunteer her time with students after her retirement but will also work towards preserving the Catholic school system, which is once again in jeopardy in Ontario.
In an effort to speak up for Catholic education, she says the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association is starting a campaign called Together in Faith to help preserve, protect and proclaim the Catholic education system.
“There has been talk again about the two boards becoming one. Catholic education has been lost in several provinces already. I think people need to write their local MPP,” she stressed. “Children today have such a lack of knowledge, and experience of their faith. Unless there is Catholic schools encouraging students and promoting their faith, we won’t have it. When discussion of this topic surfaces, Sister Monica gets upset at the thought of losing Catholic schools because of the history of Catholic education and what the religious congregations of Canada have worked unceasingly to create. She would like to encourage the various congregations who are focusing on their legacy to give voice to this initiative.
For more information about the Together in Faith initiative and to send an online letter to your local MPP and express your reasons for supporting Catholic education, visit www.togetherinfaith.ca