“You’re never too old to go back to school,” says Carolynn Browton, a stay-at-home mom who enrolled in the Education Assistant program at kál­ax-ay the Sunshine Coast Campus of Capilano University at age 48.

“It was challenging, it really scared me,” says Browton. “I didn’t know how I would do, but because I was older, I really put everything into it. I just knew this was what I wanted to do, and I let that drive me.”

Now an on-call education assistant who supports children with learning disabilities and physical or mental challenges in School District 46, the Sunshine Coast resident knows she made the right decision.

“One of the best things that came out of the whole program was gaining confidence in myself,” says Browton. “It forced me to get out of my comfort zone and learn new skills like how to work on a team.”

Putting theory into practice

She found the practicum particularly useful. Placed at an elementary school for two months, she worked Monday to Friday shadowing teachers, taking guidance from them and eventually working with a group of children with complex care and behaviour needs.

“It gave me the chance to utilize some of the skills and strategies I’d learned and see how classrooms run,” says Browton. “I got to learn from teachers who were just amazing and I took away a lot of skills from that.”

Life as an education assistant

Education Assistants start off on call, and then build up seniority to land permanent positions. Currently, she works all over the Sunshine Coast, from Gibsons to Madeira Park, in elementary, secondary and alternative schools.

“You need to be on your game, and make sure you’ve had lots of sleep,” says Browton. “You might work with a few teachers in a day, and a bunch of different students. Or you might just be with one student, say a child with autism, for a whole day. No day is typical when you’re on call.”

One of the most common issues she encounters on the job is anxiety in children.

“Anxiety tends to go hand-in-hand with autism,” says Browton. “I remind them to breathe and relax. They get really worked up when they think they can’t do something.”

Helping children build coping skills is a big part of her role. It could mean removing a child from the classroom for a few minutes until they calm down, or probing gently to find out what else is bothering them. It might be introducing tools like stress balls, wobble stools or fidget spinners.

Sometimes a child might not respond to a technique, and that’s okay, Browton says.

“But when something you try works and you see that connection, and the lightbulb goes off and you know you’ve helped them in a way, it’s really, really rewarding.”

Submitted by Shannon Colin, Communications & Marketing

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Did you know Capilano University’s kálax-ay Sunshine Coast campus is celebrating 40 years of transforming lives in September 2018? This milestone is being commemorated with a historic agreement with the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation. Learn more.

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