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Education Assistant graduates make a difference in children's lives

Christine Liefke gave birth to her fourth child two months before her eldest sister was in a serious car crash.

The two events marked a turning point in her life. The stay-at-home mother of 10 years had recently divorced and was working at a home-based business.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something with my life that means something,’” Liefke says. “I wanted to make a difference.”

She attended an information session for Okanagan College’s Education Assistant (EA) program, which prepares graduates to work in the classroom with children with special needs including physical challenges or those on the autism spectrum. Liefke applied to the program, graduated nine months later in 2011 and found work at School District No. 22 in Vernon.

“I love my job. Some days I cannot believe I get paid to do it,” she says.

Liefke has opted to take casual positions to give herself flexibility as a working mother.

“I found it easy to find employment,” she says. “I got in right away.”

School District No. 22 and Okanagan College work in partnership to offer the Education Assistant certificate, and the School District invites graduates to submit applications. Those interested in finding out more about becoming an Education Assistant are invited to an information night at Okanagan College’s Vernon campus on August 20 at 6 p.m.

“The College prepares EAs well in understanding and working with children with special needs,” says Monica Lloyd, the School District’s director of instruction for Student Support Services. “Successful students will be given an opportunity for an interview and selection to the casual list.”

Education Assistant graduates have also found employment as special needs workers and are eligible to apply for their Early Childhood Educator Assistant license. Lloyd says students graduate with a basic understanding of developmental challenges, how to build a positive relationship with children and the importance of relationship first, social development, and ways of working with youth for better academic success.

Colline Johnson, vice principal of Okanagan Landing Elementary school, says Education Assistants are the people who allow teachers to focus on teaching and remove barriers for students.

“They can change a student’s life,” Johnson says.

Liefke says she valued the program’s 120-hour practicum, during which time students are placed in a classroom to practice their skills.  
“It showed you if you really wanted to do it or not,” she says.

Since graduating, Liefke has developed a network of colleagues, and given herself a sense of purpose.

“Every day, I’m still learning,” she says. "You just feel so good knowing you have helped someone."

What: Education Assistant Information Night

When: Aug. 20, 6 - 7 p.m.
Where: Okanagan College, Vernon Campus, Room E103

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