Exploring the hallways, taking pictures on your iPad, and wandering the playground isn’t your typical classroom environment, but Kathy Purves is taking a different approach with her work as an Educational Assistant.

Being outdoors and exploring the world means that no one day is the same for Kathy and her student—a non-verbal second grader with autism and special needs at Squamish Elementary School who is not often in a classroom. So, making adjustments to his idea of a regular classroom environment is crucial for this graduate of Capilano U’s Educational Assistant (EA) program.

“We do a lot of movement breaks and going for walks, so there’s a lot of life and safety skills being taught to him right now,” Kathy says. “We walk around with our iPad and take pictures of various places and people so he can get to know the people at the school.”

Utilizing new technologies is a tool that Kathy credits to Cap U instructor Barbara Cotter’s technology course—a class in which students use high and low-tech to create communication boards for non-verbal students. She says it’s an invaluable skill that all EAs “need to have and use” to increase a student’s learning options.


Kathy Purves works as an Educational Assistant at Squamish Elementary School. All photos: Kathy Purves.


“I’ve created a book so that if he wants to go to the classroom and see his teacher, he can see a picture of her and tap his fingers on that photo. [Then] we take a walk down to the classroom and stay there for as long as it’s working for everybody.”

Kathy is also looking into the aacorn app, which has voice technology and communication boards so that her student can use it in his learning in the coming term. The app is being introduced by the school’s Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP), who is working together with Kathy to program the app with meaningful vocabulary for the student. 

Crafting an EA template

While working as an on-call EA for her capstone project in the EA program, Kathy noticed that while some schools had a system in place to update incoming EAs, many did not—leaving on-call EAs with a feeling of uncertainty.

“People don’t have a lot of time to chat and fill you in on the details—and of course, the EA who usually knows everything isn’t there,” Kathy explains. “So, it was really difficult to walk into a new [school].”


That unease planted the seed for Kathy’s capstone project. She devised an on-call EA binder at her test school, Valleycliffe Elementary, where she was working at the time.

She says the colour-coded binder is a tool that an EA could have a look at before they start their shift. “It goes into more detail about the student—what works and doesn’t, how they spend their day in the classroom, or if they do any time outside the classroom—the key insider information to prepare the EA,” Kathy says.

Kathy used the tool for herself while at the school, making tweaks and adjustments to finalize a one-page template. She has shared the binder with other EAs in the district. Aware that sometimes, unforeseen factors might prevent an on-call EA from being ready, Kathy is hoping the template will help other assistants as well.

“Not everyone arrives 20 minutes before their job, and you might not have time to look through a big binder. So there’s the quick one-pager that breaks down the goals for the day,” she explains.

The Cap edge

Kathy notes that even before she devised this binder, her classes at Cap instilled in her the confidence and communication skills that make walking into new situations easier. It’s a factor she feels sets Cap graduates apart from other new hires, who may lack experience in the classroom.

“When you’ve been shown some tools and tricks, you’re able to think really quickly on your feet and know what might work,” Kathy says.

At her current school, Kathy works alongside two Learning Resource teachers and another EA. Alexandra Brown is the Case Manager for Kathy’s student, and has witnessed Kathy’s willingness to adapt to suit her student’s learning needs.

“It’s hard to believe Kathy has been here for only a few weeks, because she thinks outside the box and comes up with creative ideas for the student,” Alexandra says. “She has a warmth and understanding for [him].”

Submitted by Communications & Marketing, written by Rumnique Nannar

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Learn more about the Education Assistant program at their upcoming Information Night on January 26, 2016.

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