It is a seemingly ordinary Wednesday morning as I make my way to library at Beechboro Christian School. I’m meeting Helen Lakstins, Specials Needs and Library Coordinator, overseer of the Educational Assistants team at Beechboro, and one of God’s superwomen.
When the Pre-Primary children have quietly filed in, the library explodes with giggles and learning as the children hear from Dolly the chicken, a southern belle with the best Texan accent imaginable. Initiated by Art Coordinator Linda Hewson and Helen three years ago, the Treehouse Friends segment reinforces the learning of specific concepts that children have done in class, in a different setting. In today’s session, the children are learning about persistence, a concept from the You Can Do It wellbeing program. Next week, they could learn about resilience from Charmaine the chameleon or about confidence from, Alice the Mouse.
It is a perfect example of both the collaboration that makes Beechboro so special, and the many extraordinary programs Helen puts in place.
Helen has been a part of Beechboro Christian School since the school started in 1988. Previously also employed by Durham Rd School, Helen has a real heart for special needs students. Her daughter has followed in her footsteps as she too teaches special needs students and has extensive overseas experience in this field. Her husband worked for the Disability Services Commission for 47 years, and her son is a firefighter, so caring is clearly in the Lakstins’ DNA.
It is important to distinguish between remedial students; students who are behind the curriculum, and true special needs students; students who cannot access the curriculum. For the latter, Helen imagines where they will be as an adult and aims to give them a voice so they can communicate their wants and needs and learn to be independent.
For these students, Helen creates and delivers tailored programs, writes special reports (with photo evidence) and crafts world class IEP’s, one of which was published in an EA training manual, Inclusion in Action, published by Cengage Learning.
The library is the hub of the school and Helen’s special place. She started it as a volunteer back in 1989 and loves seeing students discover the joy of books. Helen believes there are so many ways to learn and the library team caters to the students’ needs. For example, they have created literacy and numeracy bags filled to the brim with fiction and non-fiction stories, toys for re-enactment, tailored games and prompts and questions for parents to use to consolidate learning at home.
Hugely humble, Helen describes herself as a magpie, stealing ideas from where she can. But for Helen, ideas don’t simply remain ideas, she puts them into action and practice. Immensely resourceful, she is a firm believer that knowledge should be shared and even decades into her career, she loves to learn.
Helen oversees the ten EA’s at Beechboro and says all of them are amazing and multi-skilled. Beechboro is like a family where everyone plays their part. Coming to work here is never a chore but a tremendous pleasure.