Sandy Balascak (right) will be teaching a course at UBCO this summer about teaching at-risk youth. ACE student Nick Riemersma (left) will be one of the youth speaking to Balascak’s students. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

ACE principal to teach young educators how to understand at-risk youth

Sandy Balascak will be teaching a UBCO course this summer, with help from some ACE students

Those youth in your class aren’t problem kids, just kids with problems.

That’s the message Sandy Balascak is hoping to get out to teachers in her newest course at UBC Okanagan.

“There is a lack of training for people to deal with at-risk youth,” the Agassiz Centre for Excellence (ACE) principal explained.

“I think it’s coming more to the forefront now, but a few years ago … I don’t think you could have found a course that dealt with at-risk and/or alternate youth.

“So how do you expect the teachers to understand them when nobody is teaching the teachers?”

From July 2 to 12. that’s exactly what Balascak will be doing at the UBC Okanagan campus. Although this will be her first year teaching the course, it’s been in the works for two years.

RELATED: ACE administrator to teach UBCO summer course

The goal, Balascak said, will be to help teachers understand at-risk youth, and focus on looking at the root causes of behavioural problems.

“Punishing behaviour is kind of like treating symptoms instead of looking at the root,” she said.

“There’s a lot of techniques that really just adjust the symptom of the problem, but don’t get to the why,” she continued, adding that asking why is an important part of figuring out what’s causing difficulties for students.

“They’re acting this way: why is that? Well, they’re seeking attention: why is that? Well, it’s because this is happening at home,” she explained.

“You just keep asking why until you figure out what the root of it is.”

Students in Balascak’s class will be spending much of the 9-day course learning about mental health issues and the resulting behaviours, as well as techniques to increase self-esteem and help students cope.

But importantly, they will also be hearing from ACE students, both former and current.

“I can get up and tell them, and say ‘Well a student said this, or a student told me that’,” Balascak said. “But it doesn’t have the same impact.”

Nick Riemersma, 16, is the one current ACE student speaking at the course. (He’ll be joined by graduates Emma Potts and Ivy Blake, although Blake will be appearing via video.)

For him, the course is an opportunity to have teachers learn how they can best interact with students like him.

“It doesn’t matter more about the studying, it’s more about how truthful it is, in the end,” he said. “Because up-and-coming teachers, really, they do need to know what to do and what not to do.”

For Riemersma, teachers who would push him out of the class group found him much more difficult to work with.

“When I was in school, I used to get in trouble and they were always pushing me out of the group. It felt like they didn’t like me or something like that,” he said. “So then I usually went more the opposite than anything, so that made me rebel more.”

This year’s course, titled “Overcoming behaviour issues by understand the causes,” is expected to have about 30 teachers taking part, Balascak said. She hopes it will run again at UBC’s Okanagan campus next year as well.

“It will be up to UBC,” she said. “As I get older, the more I can reach out and teach teachers how to understand these kids, the better I think it will be.”

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