by Heidi Riley
Chastity Veno, from Bloomfield, Prince County, is one of three recipients of the 2023 Phyllis Pitre Bursary for Adult Learners.
“My first journey into higher education began in 2011, when at the age of 24 I decided that I wanted a better future,” says Chastity. “I returned to school at Holland College to become a Resident Care Worker. I found my chosen profession to be very rewarding but also challenging.
“In the spring of 2023, my daughter was diagnosed with a developmental delay and possible intellectual disabilities. This diagnosis led me to explore how I could use my skills to help children like her. Her diagnosis has also meant that working the shifts my current job requires is more difficult. I needed a better work/life balance.
“I really love being an RCW, but now I would like to enter a new field of work and become an Educational Assistant (EA). Not only will entering this field be a better fit for my family, I will be able to use my skills in new and exciting ways to help young people grow. I have a heart to help kids with challenges, and I want to learn more about disabilities and how to manage behaviours.”
What does an EA do?
EAs work under the direction of a certified teacher and assist in the implementation of individual education plans and/or behaviour management plans for students with special educational needs.
Qualifications include formal training in the education of persons with special educational needs (e.g., Human Services Program) or any equivalent program from a recognized institution.
Deciding to go back to school
Before deciding to switch careers, Chastity spoke with a few Educational Assistants who said EAs are highly in demand.
She also spoke with Career Development Services staff to see if she could get funding to help with tuition costs.
“One of my biggest strengths is that I am very determined. Originally, I thought I would be able to access different funding sources to pay for this education program. However, because I left my job, I do not qualify for these supports. Instead, I am attempting to self-fund this program. It may be harder, but I know that when I want to achieve a goal I always do.
“To fund this venture, I plan to work as a casual EA throughout the year. I am already qualified to be a non-certified substitute EA, because I have my RCW course.
“Working as a casual will show me if I enjoy the work. Even if I don’t enjoy it, I will still finish the EA program, in case I want to go ahead later. Education is always important.
“Not only will I gain valuable experience by putting my learning into practice, I will also have income with which to support my family, while also being able to select my shifts to meet the needs of my schooling.”
Choosing an education program
Chastity chose to take the EA program offered by Coastal College of British Columbia. The 10-month program is entirely online and allows people to work at their own pace. “Because of my family commitments, I felt that this option would be the best fit for me.”
The program from Coastal College is not recognized as being eligible for a student loan. “When I heard that, I called the Public Schools Branch to ask if they recognize the program, and if I would be eligible for a full-time job in the future, and they said yes. I also spoke with two people who took the Coastal College program, and they were both hired in permanent jobs. That was very encouraging to me.”
Online classes started in September. “The first week was challenging, but now I am used to how the system works, and it’s a breeze. If I have any questions, I just email my teacher, and I get an answer back the same day. You work on your own time and learn at your own pace, and you are graded every week. Every week I am getting As.”
Facing a difficult situation developed skills to be used in future employment
“A difficult situation that I have faced in the past was when my daughter was diagnosed with developmental delay and behaviour problems. I use positive reinforcement to calm her down and control the situation.
“This knowledge will be key in working with young people who also engage in difficult behaviours. Reacting with gentleness and compassion while seeking to find the root cause of the behaviour is what these students need.”
Advice to those considering a career change
“Follow your dreams! Do research into the career you want to do. Talk to people in the field to get a feel for what the job is like. Maybe you could follow someone for a day to see what it is really like.
“I was so excited to be awarded the Phyllis Pitre Bursary for Adult Learners. There was no other financial help available for me, so that bursary took a bit of weight off my shoulders. The money will cover most of the cost of my books.”