Most people go to the Bahamas so they can wear floral shirts proudly while walking barefoot on the beach, but in May, two Ryerson University students headed south to help further their careers.
Archana Kathir and Erikka Dal Bello finished their fourth and final year in Ryerson’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) program by traveling to the Caribbean to work with Every Child Counts (ECC), an educational organization for children with learning disabilities in Abaco, Bahamas.
“I knew this would be an experience that would help me develop both as an individual and as an educational professional.”
—Erikka Dal Bello, Early Childhood Education graduate, Ryerson University
“From talking to people I know who have completed international placements in the past, I knew this would be an experience that would help me develop both as an individual and as an educational professional,” says Erikka.
Working with the children at ECC, both students connected with their pupils, and with their passion for education. The children they worked with included those with physical disabilities such as speech impediments, as well as others who had special needs such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or autism.
Though both Archana and Erikka worked with children in the past, this was their first taste of practical teaching experience in the field of early childhood education. They worked alongside the ECC teachers, leading group activities and working with individual students one-on-one. They were tasked with helping to run the daily routine of the school as well as creating lesson plans and activities for the students.
“My previous experience differs from my experience in the Bahamas, because many of the children in the Bahamas do not have the luxury to attend school and have access to the necessities that many students whom I worked with at camp do,” says Archana, who used to work at children’s summer camps.
In their one-month stay on the island, both Erikka and Archana say they saw a measurable difference in their students, reaffirming their love of working in education. In an effort to bring “movement to the students learning,” Archana and Erikka even choreographed and taught the young scholars a dance routine that was performed at the school talent show.
“To see the students’ progression was breathtaking, from the beginning of the lesson to the final performance the children all built a new form of self-confidence that many of them did not have,” says Archana.
“I wanted to experience the difference of going to a school for children with special needs in an area where these children do not have many experiences compared to work that I’ve done here, where there is such a focus on inclusion,” says Erikka.
Now back on Canadian soil, the well-traveled duo say the trip earned them much more than a tan.
“It helped me develop as an educator. It opened my eyes to the challenges children face in the school system,” says Erikka, now planning to apply to teachers college and potentially work with special needs children in the future.
Archana, who also plans on pursuing her Bachelor of Education, adds that the experience helped her understand how to meet the needs of each student better, making her a better educator overall. “I never knew that I would have been impacted the way that I have where I would never want to leave.”