This Inspiring Light is a fitness instructor turned inclusion coach. For Janelle Dyck, the U of L holds unlimited opportunity; both for her and the students she’s guiding through University. Working as the inclusive post-secondary education coordinator at the U of L is a new role for Janelle, but she says it’s exciting to combine her life experiences in management, fitness and a 12-year expat.

“My story starts when I was teaching classes at Only Women’s Fitness over 20 years ago. That’s where I met my (now) mother-in-law who was persistently trying to set me up with her son. He was a hockey player overseas. I told her, I’m not going to marry a hockey player, and I don’t want to live in Japan. But six weeks after our first date, we were engaged and went on to spend 12 years living overseas.

While I was in Japan, I worked at a fitness centre and opened an English school in our apartment. I taught a whole range of students from ages 3 to 73 – and all at the same time! Teaching fitness in Japan happened coincidently too. I had just gone to get a gym membership with a friend, and as we were going up the elevator I told her I used to teach fitness classes in Canada. She told the manager about it in Japanese without my knowledge, and next thing you know, he’s sliding information across the table and I have a job.

Janelle teaching English in Japan

I’ve always taught fitness classes, as a matter of fact, it’s been just under 30 years now that it’s been my thing. It’s always been a huge part of who I am, even though I didn’t really intend it to be part of my career.

When we returned to Canada, we assumed my husband’s career would go one direction and I would go back to the U of L’s Education program. I was teaching up to 27 fitness classes a week, and couldn’t keep that up, so I wanted another option. I applied and was put on the waitlist. I was devastated. Things were not looking good, and I had no idea what I was doing with my life.

A friend mentioned educational assisting as an experiment to see if I really did want to be a teacher. I applied to several elementary schools, but I got a call from a local high school with a job offer. The first day, I went in and felt like a fish out of water. My morning was spent with students who were in the skills development room and my afternoon was with a student who was supposed to be fully immersed in the high school experience.

As a parent, I felt so much better about the experience of the afternoon student. It was so much more of a real-world experience. Added to that, I asked around about what happens to students in the skill development room after high school and their answers were really vague. Whereas the afternoon student I was supporting had a totally different outlook and seemed more prepared for real life outside of high school. That was when I had this crazy sense that there should be more to offer these kids. Then this position as an Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Coordinator at the U of L serendipitously found me!

It’s is born out of a partnership between Inclusion Alberta and the University to provide support for students who have intellectual or developmental disabilities and give them the same opportunity as any other student. I think it’s important for so many reasons. I feel that everyone should have the same opportunities, no matter what. If they learn in different ways, due to no fault of their own, that shouldn’t hold them back in their post-secondary studies, their career or any experience in life.

It’s very inspiring to be a part of it.

It sounds crazy, but I feel that all the places I’ve been have led me to this point. There were so many times when I thought the world was falling apart, but it wasn’t. It was leading me here to the U of L.

Day-to-day, I meet with all three of the students I support to do course review and help them sort out what their day will look like. Right now, I’m also collaborating with professors to get them on board with the program and sort out what the learning style is for each student and how modifications can be made to course work and exams. My students tend to have an intellectual or developmental disability. Some may have a visible disability and for others, it’s not obvious they’re learning differently than others around them. I feel like my students are no different than any other student here at the University. They’re excited to be here and look forward to making connections and completing their post-secondary education. I get emotional just thinking about seeing them walk across the stage. I really want to see them succeed here and go on to do great things in their careers.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Kathleen Oshiro Dyck says:

    You know who I am? The lucky mother-in-law who gave up her place in the Midnight Run so her son could meet Janelle. I am also a retired teacher who heartily applauds this learning initiative: progressive, hopeful, and absolutely necessary. Well done!

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