The Ripple Effect of Literacy and Lifelong Learning

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Burrell,-Donna-editAt Dartmouth Learning Network we love hearing from our past learners. Recently we had the opportunity to chat with Donna Burrell. Donna was enrolled in our programs from 2005 to 2007 and while with us, also served as Learner Representative on our Board of Directors. She volunteered to share her story with us.  We hope that you are as inspired by it as we are!

When my son was in grade six he really struggled with math and I couldn’t help him.  I couldn’t do the work. His teacher, Mrs. Myers, gave me Dartmouth Learning Network’s contact information.  I put it on my fridge. It was there for about a year. Finally, I looked at it one day and said, “Okay, it’s time.”

I have a learning disability.  I did get through Grade 12 but I didn’t have the skills I needed to help my children.  Dartmouth Learning Network helped with that. I worked on language, writing, computers and math.  I learned how to learn despite my learning disability. My skills improved and so did my confidence.

In fact, the support and help I got at Dartmouth Learning Network gave me the confidence I needed to go back to school.  I took a Continuing Care Assistant course. It took me two years to get through it. I decided to take a lesser load so that I could learn better and do well.  I was successful. In fact, I received three awards: a service learning award, the highest mark in the class, and honours. I worked hard at it as it was something I wanted to do.  It was a dream for me.

I’ve worked in a nursing home and loved it.  I felt it was more of a calling for me than anything else.  From there I went on to work in an adult day program. It was very interesting and I worked hard to come up with programs that would keep the seniors’ interest. My last and most meaningful job was working as a caregiver for a young autistic man.  

I remember when I applied for the job, my husband told me not to take it because I was overqualified and could get something better.  But I disagreed. I was drawn to that job and I couldn’t take it.

When I started working with Keiran, he was 20 and nonverbal. He communicated his wants and needs using an app on his tablet. At the time, he was mostly disconnected from the world.  He didn’t like to go out and would often sit in his chair and stare off into space for long periods of time.

It took me a while but I figured out how to teach him. with the help of a teacher that met with us once a week through Facetime.  We did lots of exercises throughout the day to improve the fine motor skills needed to hold a pencil and to improve connections between the left and right sides of his brain.  We made and cut tissue balls and did a lot of art. We started with how to write his name. It took us a year but we persevered. Then we did his last name, which took no time at all.  Next, he learned the alphabet and the sounds of the alphabet.

We’d start our school work at 11 am each day and we wouldn’t stop until 5 pm.  And, he wanted to do it. He didn’t even want to take breaks. It was amazing how much he would do for me.

We worked on spelling and reading and even when we went for walks we would do our school work - we would practice sounds and read signs.

Eventually, in addition to using his tablet to communicate, I would get Keiran to write down what he wanted or needed.  By then, he could write in full sentences, with capitals and periods.

Keiran became a different person.  As his skills grew, he came to life.  His eyes were different - he had life in his eyes and a spark he didn’t have before. In addition to learning and outings, Keiran has also added work to his balance of activities. He works at Shoppers Drug Mart one day a week organizing their magazines and books.  

It was hard work, but it was rewarding.  Without the support of Dartmouth Learning Network, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to go back to school and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work with Keiran.  Dartmouth Learning Network made a difference in my life - and in Keiran’s life as well.

I couldn’t be happier!  I’m so happy I was used for the purpose I was meant to be used for!

Over the years, we’ve seen lots of people like Donna who, despite having a high school diploma, didn’t get the skills they need to live and work in modern society. Throughout her story, Donna demonstrates the importance of lifelong learning.  Whether it be when her son struggled with school, when she became a Continuing Care Assistant, when she worked coordinating programs as part of a seniors’ day program, or when she embarked on the challenge of teaching Keiran to read and write, Donna researched, talked to people and took training to build her skills and knowledge.

In sharing Donna’s story with you we are celebrating Donna, Keiran and how literacy and learning throughout life can positively impact all lives.

If you would like to learn more about Donna and Keiran's story, you can hear from them directly on YouTube:

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