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Vancouver Island family finds inclusion in son's back-to-school experience

A Sidney, B.C., family is sharing its back-to-school story to highlight the inclusivity that exists in the school's halls.

“Jax loves school,” says his mom Tracey Poole. “The teachers, the school, especially his classmates. They have gravitated to Jax. They are so wanting to help him.”

Like many students his age, the 12-year-old loves to watch YouTube. Poole says the family loves to spend time outside, active in the community. And they say his favourite colour is orange.

Jax, or Jackson, is non-verbal with autism. He’s also mobility-challenged with cerebral palsy. So he leans on a few extra back-to-school steps to help his education thrive – such as gear checks and early drop-offs for key pieces of equipment to help him move alongside his peers.

“You wouldn’t know what you need until you need it,” says Poole.

Her son uses a specialized trike to roam at recess, a walker, and a wheelchair for longer periods of transportation. The family is grateful to have support over the years from charity partners, such as the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island to help.

“When it comes to back to school, we’re assisting families with items such as specialized equipment like seating, orthotics, wheelchairs and also assistive technology for communication,” says the foundation’s director of development, Shelley Engelhardt.

In the last fiscal year, the referral-based ‘Bear Essentials’ program supported 646 families for a total of $575,984.

“It all depends on our funding,” says Engelhardt. “We are 100 per cent reliant on donor dollars.”

This year the foundation is outfitting Jackson with new shoes that can fit his braces, to support his limited ability to stand and walk. It’s also equipped the Grade 7 student with a free-wheel that attaches to his wheelchair so he can access bumpier terrain, such as playgrounds with chips.

“It’s getting Jax and us out into the community and taking part in activities that we didn’t think we were going to be able to do once we had all these diagnoses,” says Poole.

She says the support doesn’t stop outside school halls.

“It’s a lot of the school and [education assistants] thinking outside the box too as to how to include Jackson,” she says.

Poole remembers worrying about her child going to kindergarten, and happily reports the fears subsided within the first two weeks.

She wants the family’s positive experience heard, hoping other families with complex health needs also find good in back-to-school.

“If I can help a family out there and just let them know that it’s going to be OK,” says Poole. Top Stories

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